Skip to main content

Full text of "The lesson of the master"

See other formats


LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY  OF 
CALIFORNIA 

SANTA  CRUZ 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 


UNIFORM  EDITION 
OF   THE    TALES 


THE    LESSON   OF 
THE  MASTER 

BY  HENRY  JAMES 


LONDON:  MARTIN  SECKER 

NUMBER  FIVE  JOHN  STREET  ADELPHI 


US  5 

This  edition  first  printed  1915 


m- 


HE  had  been  told  the  ladies  were  at  church,  but 
this  was  corrected  by  what  he  saw  from  the  top  of 
the  steps  —  they  descended  from  a  great  height 
in  two  arms,  with  a  circular  sweep  of  the  most 
charming  effect  —  at  the  threshold  of  the  door 
which,  from  the  long  bright  gallery,  overlooked 
the  immense  lawn.  Three  gentlemen,  on  the 
grass,  at  a  distance,  sat  under  the  great  trees, 
while  the  fourth  figure  showed  a  crimson  dress 
that  told  as  a  "  bit  of  colour  "  amid  the  fresh 
rich  green.  The  servant  had  so  far  accompanied 
Paul  Overt  as  to  introduce  him  to  this  view,  after 
asking  him  if  he  wished  first  to  go  to  his  room. 
The  young  man  declined  that  privilege,  conscious 
of  no  disrepair  from  so  short  and  easy  a  journey 
and  always  liking  to  take  at  once  a  general  per- 
ceptive possession  of  a  new  scene  He  stood  there 
a  little  with  his  eyes  on  the  group  and  on  the 
admirable  picture,  the  wide  grounds  of  an  old 
country-house  near  London  —  that  only  made  it 
better  —  on  a  splendid  Sunday  in  June.  "  But 
that  lady,  who  's  she  ?"  he  said  to  the  servant 
before  the  man  left  him. 

5 


THE    LESSON   OF   THE    MASTER 

44 1  think  she  's  Mrs.  St.  George,  sir." 
"  Mrs.    St.    George,    the    wife    of   the    distin- 
guished  "     Then  Paul  Overt  checked  him- 
self, doubting  if  a  footman  would  know. 

"  Yes,  sir  —  probably,  sir,"  said  his  guide,  who 

appeared  to  wish  to  intimate  that  a  person  staying 

at  Summersoft  would  naturally  be,   if  only  by 

alliance,  distinguished.     His  tone,  however,  made 

poor  Overt  himself  feel  for  the  moment  scantly  so. 

44  And  the  gentlemen  ?  "  Overt  went  on. 

44  Well,  sir,  one  of  them  's  General  Fancourt." 

44  Ah    yes,    I    know ;     thank    you."     General 

Fancourt  was  distinguished,  there  was  no  doubt 

of  that,  for  something  he  had  done,  or  perhaps 

even  had  n't  done  —  the  young  man  could  n't 

remember  which  —  some  years  before  in  India. 

The  servant  went  away,  leaving  the  glass  doors 

open  into  the  gallery,  and  Paul  Overt  remained 

at  the  head  of  the  wide  double  staircase,  saying 

to  himself  that  the  place  was  sweet  and  promised 

a  pleasant  visit,  while  he  leaned  on  the  balustrade 

of  fine  old  ironwork  which,  like  all  the  other  details, 

was  of  the  same  period  as  the  house.     It  all  went 

together  and  spoke  in  one  voice  —  a  rich  English 

voice  of  the  early  part  of  the  eighteenth  century. 

It  might  have  been  church- time  on  a  summer's 

day  in  the  reign  of  Queen  Anne  ;  the  stillness  was 

too  perfect  to  be  modern,  the  nearness  counted 

6 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

so  as  distance,  and  there  was  something  so  fresh 
and  sound  in  the  originality  of  the  large  smooth 
house,  the  expanse  of  beautiful  brickwork  that 
showed  for  pink  rather  than  red  and  that  had  been 
kept  clear  of  messy  creepers  by  the  law  under 
which  a  woman  with  a  rare  complexion  disdains 
a  veil.  When  Paul  Overt  became  aware  that  the 
people  under  the  trees  had  noticed  him  he  turned 
back  through  the  open  doors  into  the  great  gallery 
which  was  the  pride  of  the  place.  It  marched 
across  from  end  to  end  and  seemed  —  with  its 
bright  colours,  its  high  panelled  windows,  its  faded 
flowered  chintzes,  its  quickly-recognised  portraits 
and  pictures,  the  blue-and-white  china  of  its 
cabinets  and  the  attenuated  festoons  and  rosettes 
of  its  ceiling  —  a  cheerful  upholstered  avenue  into 
the  other  century. 

Our  friend  was  slightly  nervous  ;  that  went 
with  his  character  as  a  student  of  fine  prose, 
went  with  the  artist's  general  disposition  to 
vibrate  ;  and  there  was  a  particular  thrill  in  the 
idea  that  Henry  St.  George  might  be  a  member 
of  the  party.  For  the  young  aspirant  he  had 
remained  a  high  literary  figure,  in  spite  of  the 
lower  range  of  production  to  which  he  had  fallen 
after  his  first  three  great  successes,  the  comparative 
absence  of  quality  in  his  later  work.  There  had 
been  moments  when  Paul  Overt  almost  shed  tears 

7 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

for  this  ;  but  now  that  he  was  near  him  —  he  had 
never  met  him  —  he  was  conscious  only  of  the 
fine  original  source  and  of  his  own  immense  debt. 
After  he  had  taken  a  turn  or  two  up  and  down 
the  gallery  he  came  out  again  and  descended  the 
steps.  He  was  but  slenderly  supplied  with  a 
certain  social  boldness  —  it  was  really  a  weakness 
in  him  —  so  that,  conscious  of  a  want  of  ac- 
quaintance with  the  four  persons  in  the  distance, 
he  gave  way  to  motions  recommended  by  their 
not  committing  him  to  a  positive  approach. 
There  was  a  fine  English  awkwardness  in  this  — 
he  felt  that  too  as  he  sauntered  vaguely  and 
obliquely  across  the  lawn,  taking  an  independent 
line.  Fortunately  there  was  an  equally  fine 
English  directness  in  the  way  one  of  the  gentle- 
men presently  rose  and  made  as  if  to  "  stalk  " 
him,  though  with  an  air  of  conciliation  and  re- 
assurance. To  this  demonstration  Paul  Overt 
instantly  responded,  even  if  the  gentleman  were 
not  his  host.  He  was  tall,  straight  and  elderly 
and  had,  like  the  great  house  itself,  a  pink  smiling 
face,  and  into  the  bargain  a  white  moustache. 
Our  young  man  met  him  halfway  while  he  laughed 

and  said  :    "  Er Lady  Watermouth  told  us 

you  were  coming  ;  she  asked  me  just  to  look  after 
you."  Paul  Overt  thanked  him,  liking  him  on 
the  spot,  and  turned  round  with  him  to  walk 
8 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

toward  the  others.  "  They  've  all  gone  to  church 
—  all  except  us,"  the  stranger  continued  as  they 
went ;  "  we  're  just  sitting  here  —  it 's  so  jolly." 
Overt  pronounced  it  jolly  indeed  :  it  was  such  a 
lovely  place.  He  mentioned  that  he  was  having 
the  charming  impression  for  the  first  time. 

"  Ah  you  've  not  been  here  before  ?  "  said  his 
companion.  "  It 's  a  nice  little  place  —  not  much 
to  do,  you  know."  Overt  wondered  what  he 
wanted  to  "  do  "  —  he  felt  that  he  himself  was 
doing  so  much.  By  the  time  they  came  to  where 
the  others  sat  he  had  recognised  his  initiator  for 
a  military  man  and  —  such  was  the  turn  of 
Overt's  imagination  —  had  found  him  thus  still 
more  sympathetic.  He  would  naturally  have  a 
need  for  action,  for  deeds  at  variance  with  the 
pacific  pastoral  scene.  He  was  evidently  so  good- 
natured,  however,  that  he  accepted  the  inglorious 
hour  for  what  it  was  worth.  Paul  Overt  shared 
it  with  him  and  with  his  companions  for  the  next 
twenty  minutes  ;  the  latter  looked  at  him  and  he 
looked  at  them  without  knowing  much  who  they 
were,  while  the  talk  went  on  without  much  telling 
him  even  what  it  meant.  It  seemed  indeed  to 
mean  nothing  in  particular  ;  it  wandered,  with 
casual  pointless  pauses  and  short  terrestrial  flights, 
amid  names  of  persons  and  places  —  names  which, 
for  our  friend,  had  no  great  power  of  evocation. 

9 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

It  was  all  sociable  and  slow,  as  was  right  and 
natural  of  a  warm  Sunday  morning. 

His  first  attention  was  given  to  the  question, 
privately  considered,  of  whether  one  of  the  two 
younger  men  would  be  Henry  St.  George.  He 
knew  many  of  his  distinguished  contemporaries  by 
their  photographs,  but  had  never,  as  happened, 
seen  a  portrait  of  the  great  misguided  novelist. 
One  of  the  gentlemen  was  unimaginable  —  he 
was  too  young  ;  and  the  other  scarcely  looked 
clever  enough,  with  such  mild  undiscriminating 
eyes.  If  those  eyes  were  St.  George's  the  problem 
presented  by  the  ill-matched  parts  of  his  genius 
would  be  still  more  difficult  of  solution.  Besides, 
the  deportment  of  their  proprietor  was  not,  as 
regards  the  lady  in  the  red  dress,  such  as  could 
be  natural,  toward  the  wife  of  his  bosom,  even 
to  a  writer  accused  by  several  critics  of  sacrificing 
too  much  to  manner.  Lastly  Paul  Overt  had 
a  vague  sense  that  if  the  gentleman  with  the 
expressionless  eyes  bore  the  name  that  had  set 
his  heart  beating  faster  (he  also  had  contradictory 
conventional  whiskers  —  the  young  admirer  of 
the  celebrity  had  never  in  a  mental  vision  seen 
his  face  in  so  vulgar  a  frame)  he  would  have  given 
him  a  sign  of  recognition  or  of  friendliness,  would 
have  heard  of  him  a  little,  would  know  something 
about  "  Ginistrella,"  would  have  an  impression 
10 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

of  how  that  fresh  fiction  had  caught  the  eye  of 
real  criticism.  Paul  Overt  had  a  dread  of  being 
grossly  proud,  but  even  morbid  modesty  might 
view  the  authorship  of  "  Ginistrella "  as  con- 
stituting a  degree  of  identity.  His  soldierly 
friend  became  clear  enough  :  he  was  "  Fancourt," 
but  was  also  "  the  General  "  ;  and  he  mentioned 
to  the  new  visitor  in  the  course  of  a  few  moments 
that  he  had  but  lately  returned  from  twenty  years' 
service  abroad. 

"  And  now  you  remain  in  England  ?  "  the 
young  man  asked. 

"  Oh  yes  ;  I  've  bought  a  small  house  in  London." 

44  And  I  hope  you  like  it,"  said  Overt,  looking 
at  Mrs.  St.  George. 

"  Well,  a  little  house  in  Manchester  Square  — 
there  's  a  limit  to  the  enthusiasm  that  inspires." 

"  Oh  I  meant  being  at  home  again — being  back 
in  Piccadilly. 

"My  daughter  likes  Piccadilly  —  that's  the 
main  thing.  She 's  very  fond  of  art  and  music  and 
literature  and  all  that  kind  of  thing.  She  missed 
it  in  India  and  she  finds  it  in  London,  or  she  hopes 
she  '11  find  it.  Mr.  St.  George  has  promised  to 
help  her  —  he  has  been  awfully  kind  to  her. 
She  has  gone  to  church  —  she  's  fond  of  that  too  — 
but  they  '11  all  be  back  in  a  quarter  of  an  hour. 
You  must  let  me  introduce  you  to  her  —  she'll 

11 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

be  so  glad  to  know  you.    I  dare  say  she  has  read 
every  blest  word  you  've  written." 

"  I  shall  be  delighted  —  I  have  n't  written  so 
very  many,"  Overt  pleaded,  feeling,  and  without 
resentment,  that  the  General  at  least  was  vague- 
ness itself  about  that.  But  he  wondered  a  little 
why,  expressing  this  friendly  disposition,  it  did 
n't  occur  to  the  doubtless  eminent  soldier  to 
pronounce  the  word  that  would  put  him  in  relation 
with  Mrs.  St.  George.  If  it  was  a  question  of 
introductions  Miss  Fancourt  —  apparently  as  yet 
unmarried  —  was  far  away,  while  the  wife  of  his 
illustrious  confrere  was  almost  between  them. 
This  lady  struck  Paul  Overt  as  altogether  pretty, 
with  a  surprising  juvenility  and  a  high  smartness 
of  aspect,  something  that  —  he  could  scarcely 
have  said  why  —  served  for  mystification.  St. 
George  certainly  had  every  right  to  a  charming 
wife,  but  he  himself  would  never  have  imagined 
the  important  little  woman  in  the  aggressively 
Parisian  dress  the  partner  for  life,  the  alter  ego,  of  a 
man  of  letters.  That  partner  in  general,  he  knew, 
that  second  self,  was  far  from  presenting  herself 
in  a  single  type  :  observation  had  taught  him  that 
she  was  not  inveterately,  not  necessarily  plain. 
But  he  had  never  before  seen  her  look  so  much 
as  if  her  prosperity  had  deeper  foundations  than 
an  ink-spotted  study-table  littered  with  proof- 
12 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

sheets.  Mrs.  St.  George  might  have  been  the 
wife  of  a  gentleman  who  "  kept "  books  rather 
than  wrote  them,  who  carried  on  great  affairs 
in  the  City  and  made  better  bargains  than  those 
that  poets  mostly  make  with  publishers.  With 
this  she  hinted  at  a  success  more  personal  —  a 
success  peculiarly  stamping  the  age  in  which 
society,  the  world  of  conversation,  is  a  great  draw- 
ing-room with  the  City  for  its  antechamber.  Overt 
numbered  her  years  at  first  as  some  thirty,  and 
then  ended  by  believing  that  she  might  approach 
her  fiftieth.  But  she  somehow  in  this  case  juggled 
away  the  excess  and  the  difference  —  you  only 
saw  them  in  a  rare  glimpse,  like  the  rabbit  in  the 
conjurer's  sleeve.  She  was  extraordinarily  white, 
and  her  every  element  and  item  was  pretty  ;  her 
eyes,  her  ears,  her  hair,  her  voice,  her  hands, 
her  feet  —  to  which  her  relaxed  attitude  in  her 
wicker  chair  gave  a  great  publicity  —  and  the 
numerous  ribbons  and  trinkets  with  which  she 
was  bedecked.  She  looked  as  if  she  had  put  on 
her  best  clothes  to  go  to  church  and  then  had 
decided  they  were  too  good  for  that  and  had 
stayed  at  home.  She  told  a  story  of  some  length 
about  the  shabby  way  Lady  Jane  had  treated 
the  Duchess,  as  well  as  an  anecdote  in  relation 
to  a  purchase  she  had  made  in  Paris  —  on  her  way 
back  from  Cannes  ;  made  for  Lady  Egbert,  who 

13 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

had  never  refunded  the  money.  Paul  Overt  sus- 
pected her  of  a  tendency  to  figure  great  people 
as  larger  than  life,  until  he  noticed  the  manner 
in  which  she  handled  Lady  Egbert,  which  was  so 
sharply  mutinous  that  it  reassured  him.  He  felt 
he  should  have  understood  her  better  if  he  might 
have  met  her  eye  ;  but  she  scarcely  so  much  as 
glanced  at  him.  "  Ah  here  they  come  —  all  the 
good  ones  1  "  she  said  at  last ;  and  Paul  Overt 
admired  at  his  distance  the  return  of  the  church- 
goers—  several  persons,  in  couples  and  threes, 
advancing  in  a  flicker  of  sun  and  shade  at  the  end 
of  a  large  green  vista  formed  by  the  level  grass 
and  the  overarching  boughs. 

"  If  you  mean  to  imply  that  we  're  bad,  I  pro- 
test," said  one  of  the  gentlemen  —  "  after  making 
one's  self  agreeable  all  the  morning  !  " 

"  Ah  if  they  've  found  you  agreeable  —  !  "  Mrs. 
St.  George  gaily  cried.  "  But  if  we  're  good  the 
others  are  better." 

"  They  must  be  angels  then,"  said  the  amused 
General. 

"  Your  husband  was  an  angel,  the  way  he  went 
off  at  your  bidding,"  the  gentleman  who  had  first 
spoken  declared  to  Mrs.  St.  George. 

"  At  my  bidding  ?  " 

"  Did  n't  you  make  him  go  to  church  ?  " 

"  I  never  made  him  do  anything  in  my  life  but 
14 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

once  —  when  I  made  him  burn  up  a  bad  book. 
That 's  all !  "  At  her  "  That 's  all ! "  our  young 
friend  broke  into  an  irrepressible  laugh  ;  it  lasted 
only  a  second,  but  it  drew  her  eyes  to  him.  His 
own  met  them,  though  not  long  enough  to  help 
him  to  understand  her  ;  unless  it  were  a  step 
towards  this  that  he  saw  on  the  instant  how  the 
burnt  book  —  the  way  she  alluded  to  it !  —  would 
have  been  one  of  her  husband's  finest  things. 

"  A  bad  book  ?  "  her  interlocutor  repeated. 

"  I  did  n't  like  it.  He  went  to  church  because 
your  daughter  went,"  she  continued  to  General 
Fancourt.  "  I  think  it  my  duty  to  call  your 
attention  to  his  extraordinary  demonstrations  to 
your  daughter." 

"  Well;  if  you  don't  mind  them  I  don't,"  the 
General  laughed. 

"Us'  attache  a  ses  pas.  But  I  don't  wonder  — 
she  's  so  charming." 

44 1  hope  she  won't  make  him  burn  any  books  !  " 
Paul  Overt  ventured  to  exclaim. 

"  If  she  'd  make  him  write  a  few  it  would  be 
more  to  the  purpose,"  said  Mrs.  St.  George.  "  He 
has  been  of  a  laziness  of  late !  " 

Our  young  man  stared  —  he  was  so  struck  with 
the  lady's  phraseology.  Her  "Write  a  few" 
seemed  to  him  almost  as  good  as  her  "  That 's 
all."  Didn't  she,  as  the  wife  of  a  rare  artist, 

15 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

know  what  it  was  to  produce  one  perfect  work 
of  art  ?  How  in  the  world  did  she  think  they  were 
turned  off  ?  His  private  conviction  was  that, 
admirably  as  Henry  St.  George  wrote,  he  had 
written  for  the  last  ten  years,  and  especially  for 
the  last  five,  only  too  much,  and  there  was  an 
instant  during  which  he  felt  inwardly  solicited 
to  make  this  public.  But  before  he  had  spoken 
a  diversion  was  effected  by  the  return  of  the 
absentees.  They  strolled  up  dispersedly  —  there 
were  eight  or  ten  of  them  —  and  the  circle  under 
the  trees  rearranged  itself  as  they  took  their  place 
in  it.  They  made  it  much  larger,  so  that  Paul 
Overt  could  feel  —  he  was  always  feeling  that  sort 
of  thing,  as  he  said  to  himself  —  that  if  the  com- 
pany had  already  been  interesting  to  watch  the 
interest  would  now  become  intense.  He  shook 
hands  with  his  hostess,  who  welcomed  him  with- 
out many  words,  in  the  manner  of  a  woman  able 
to  trust  him  to  understand  and  conscious  that 
so  pleasant  an  occasion  would  in  every  way  speak 
for  itself.  She  offered  him  no  particular  facility 
for  sitting  by  her,  and  when  they  had  all  subsided 
again  he  found  himself  still  next  General  Fan- 
court,  with  an  unknown  lady  on  his  other 
flank. 

"  That 's  my  daughter  —  that  one  opposite," 
the  General  said  to  him  without  loss  of  time, 
16 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

Overt  saw  a  tall  girl,  with  magnificent  red  hair, 
in  a  dress  of  a  pretty  grey-green  tint  and  of  a 
limp  silken  texture,  a  garment  that  clearly  shirked 
every  modern  effect.  It  had  therefore  somehow 
the  stamp  of  the  latest  thing,  so  that  our  be- 
holder quickly  took  her  for  nothing  if  not  con- 
temporaneous. 

"  She  's  very  handsome  —  very  handsome,"  he 
repeated  while  he  considered  her.  There  was 
something  noble  in  her  head,  and  she  appeared 
fresh  and  strong. 

Her  good  father  surveyed  her  with  complacency, 
remarking  soon  :  "  She  looks  too  hot  —  that 's 
her  walk.  But  she  '11  be  all  right  presently.  Then 
I  '11  make  her  come  over  and  speak  to  you." 

"  I  should  be  sorry  to  give  you  that  trouble. 
If  you  were  to  take  me  over  there  —  /  "  the  young 
man  murmured. 

"  My  dear  sir,  do  you  suppose  I  put  myself  out 
that  way  ?  I  don't  mean  for  you,  but  for  Marian," 
the  General  added. 

"  /  would  put  myself  out  for  her  soon  enough," 
Overt  replied  ;  after  which  he  went  on  :  "  Will  you 
be  so  good  as  to  tell  me  which  of  those  gentlemen 
is  Henry  St.  George  ?  " 

"  The  fellow  talking  to  my  girl.  By  Jove,  he  is 
making  up  to  her  —  they  're  going  off  for  another 
walk." 

B  17 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

"Ah  is  that  he  —  really  ?  "  Our  friend  felt  a 
certain  surprise,  for  the  personage  before  him 
seemed  to  trouble  a  vision  which  had  been  vague 
only  while  not  confronted  with  the  reality.  As 
soon  as  the  reality  dawned  the  mental  image, 
retiring  with  a  sigh,  became  substantial  enough  to 
suffer  a  slight  wrong.  Overt,  who  had  spent  a 
considerable  part  of  his  short  life  in  foreign  lands, 
made  now,  but  not  for  the  first  time,  the  reflexion 
that  whereas  in  those  countries  he  had  almost 
always  recognised  the  artist  and  the  man  of  letters 
by  his  personal  "  type,"  the  mould  of  his  face,  the 
character  of  his  head,  the  expression  of  his  figure 
and  even  the  indications  of  his  dress,  so  in  England 
this  identification  was  as  little  as  possible  a 
matter  of  course,  thanks  to  the  greater  conformity, 
the  habit  of  sinking  the  profession  instead  of 
advertising  it,  the  general  diffusion  of  the  air  of 
the  gentleman  —  the  gentleman  committed  to  no 
particular  set  of  ideas.  More  than  once,  on  re- 
turning to  his  own  country,  he  had  said  to  himself 
about  people  met  in  society  :  "  One  sees  them 
in  this  place  and  that,  and  one  even  talks  with 
them  ;  but  to  find  out  what  they  do  one  would 
really  have  to  be  a  detective."  In  respect  to 
several  individuals  whose  work  he  was  the  opposite 
of  "  drawn  to  "  —  perhaps  he  was  wrong  —  he 
found  himself  adding  "  No  wonder  they  conceal 
18 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

it  —  when  it 's  so  bad  !  "  He  noted  that  oftener 
than  in  France  and  in  Germany  his  artist  looked 
like  a  gentleman  —  that  is  like  an  English  one  — 
while,  certainly  outside  a  few  exceptions,  his 
gentleman  did  n't  look  like  an  artist.  St.  George 
was  not  one  of  the  exceptions  ;  that  circumstance 
he  definitely  apprehended  before  the  great  man 
had  turned  his  back  to  walk  off  with  Miss  Fancourt. 
He  certainly  looked  better  behind  than  any  foreign 
man  of  letters  —  showed  for  beautifully  correct 
in  his  tall  black  hat  and  his  superior  frock  coat. 
Somehow,  all  the  same,  these  very  garments  — 
he  would  n't  have  minded  them  so  much  on  a 
weekday  —  were  disconcerting  to  Paul  Overt, 
who  forgot  for  the  moment  that  the  head  of  the 
profession  was  not  a  bit  better  dressed  than 
himself.  He  had  caught  a  glimpse  of  a  regular 
face,  a  fresh  colour,  a  brown  moustache  and  a 
pair  of  eyes  surely  never  visited  by  a  fine  frenzy, 
and  he  promised  himself  to  study  these  denotements 
on  the  first  occasion.  His  superficial  sense  was 
that  their  owner  might  have  passed  for  a  lucky 
stockbroker  —  a  gentleman  driving  eastward  every 
morning  from  a  sanitary  suburb  in  a  smart  dog- 
cart. That  carried  out  the  impression  already 
derived  from  his  wife.  Paul's  glance,  after  a 
moment,  travelled  back  to  this  lady,  and  he  saw 
how  her  own  had  followed  her  husband  as  he 

19 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

moved  off  with  Miss  Fancourt.  Overt  permitted 
himself  to  wonder  a  little  if  she  were  jealous  when 
another  woman  took  him  away.  Then  he  made 
out  that  Mrs.  St.  George  was  n't  glaring  at  the 
indifferent  maiden.  Her  eyes  rested  but  on  her 
husband,  and  with  unmistakeable  serenity.  That 
was  the  way  she  wanted  him  to  be  —  she  liked 
his  conventional  uniform.  Overt  longed  to  hear 
more  about  the  book  she  had  induced  him  to 
destroy. 


20 


II 


As  they  all  came  out  from  luncheon  General 
Fancourt  took  hold  of  him  with  an  "  I  say,  I  want 
you  to  know  my  girl !  "  as  if  the  idea  had  just 
occurred  to  him  and  he  had  n't  spoken  of  it  before. 
With  the  other  hand  he  possessed  himself  all 
paternally  of  the  young  lady.  "  You  know  all 
about  him.  I  've  seen  you  with  his  books.  She 
reads  everything  —  everything  !  "  he  went  on  to 
Paul.  The  girl  smiled  at  him  and  then  laughed 
at  her  father.  The  General  turned  away  and  his 
daughter  spoke  —  "Is  n't  papa  delightful  ?  " 

"  He  is  indeed,  Miss  Fancourt." 

"  As  if  I  read  you  because  I  read 4  everything  '  !  " 

"  Oh  I  don't  mean  for  saying  that,"  said  Paul 
Overt.  "  I  liked  him  from  the  moment  he  began 
to  be  kind  to  me.  Then  he  promised  me  this 
privilege." 

"  It  is  n't  for  you  he  means  it  —  it 's  for  me. 
If  you  flatter  yourself  that  he  thinks  of  anything 
in  life  but  me  you  '11  find  you  're  mistaken.  He 
introduces  every  one.  He  thinks  me  insatiable." 

"  You  speak  just  like  him,"  laughed  our  youth. 

21 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  Ah  but  sometimes  I  want  to  "  —  and  the  girl 
coloured.  "  I  don't  read  everything  —  I  read 
very  little.  But  I  have  read  you." 

"  Suppose  we  go  into  the  gallery,"  said  Paul 
Overt.  She  pleased  him  greatly,  not  so  much 
because  of  this  last  remark  —  though  that  of 
course  was  not  too  disconcerting  —  as  because, 
seated  opposite  to  him  at  luncheon,  she  had  given 
him  for  half  an  hour  the  impression  of  her  beautiful 
face.  Something  else  had  come  with  it  —  a  sense 
of  generosity,  of  an  enthusiasm  which,  unlike 
many  enthusiasms,  was  not  all  manner.  That 
was  not  spoiled  for  him  by  his  seeing  that  the 
repast  had  placed  her  again  in  familiar  contact 
with  Henry  St.  George.  Sitting  next  her  this 
celebrity  was  also  opposite  our  young  man,  who 
had  been  able  to  note  that  he  multiplied  the  atten- 
tions lately  brought  by  his  wife  to  the  General's 
notice.  Paul  Overt  had  gathered  as  well  that  this 
lady  was  not  in  the  least  discomposed  by  these 
fond  excesses  and  that  she  gave  every  sign  of 
an  unclouded  spirit.  She  had  Lord  Masham  on 
one  side  of  her  and  on  the  other  the  accomplished 
Mr.  Mulliner,  editor  of  the  new  high-class  lively 
evening  paper  which  was  expected  to  meet  a  want 
felt  in  circles  increasingly  conscious  that  Con- 
servatism must  be  made  amusing,  and  uncon- 
vinced when  assured  by  those  of  another  political 
22 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

colour  that  it  was  already  amusing  enough.  At 
the  end  of  an  hour  spent  in  her  company  Paul 
Overt  thought  her  still  prettier  than  at  the  first 
radiation,  and  if  her  profane  allusions  to  her 
husband's  work  had  not  still  rung  in  his  ears 
he  should  have  liked  her  —  so  far  as  it  could  be  a 
question  of  that  in  connexion  with  a  woman  to 
whom  he  had  not  yet  spoken  and  to  whom  probably 
he  should  never  speak  if  it  were  left  to  her.  Pretty 
women  were  a  clear  need  to  this  genius,  and  for 
the  hour  it  was  Miss  Fancourt  who  supplied  the 
want.  If  Overt  had  promised  himself  a  closer  view 
the  occasion  was  now  of  the  best,  and  it  brought 
consequences  felt  by  the  young  man  as  important. 
He  saw  more  in  St.  George's  face,  which  he  liked 
the  better  for  its  not  having  told  its  whole  story 
in  the  first  three  minutes.  That  story  came  out 
as  one  read,  in  short  instalments  —  it  was  ex- 
cusable that  one's  analogies  should  be  somewhat 
professional  —  and  the  text  was  a  style  con- 
siderably involved,  a  language  not  easy  to  trans- 
late at  sight.  There  were  shades  of  meaning  in 
it  and  a  vague  perspective  of  history  which  receded 
as  you  advanced.  Two  facts  Paul  had  particularly 
heeded.  The  first  of  these  was  that  he  liked  the 
measured  mask  much  better  at  inscrutable  rest 
than  hi  social  agitation ;  its  almost  convulsive 
smile  above  all  displeased  him  (as  much  as  any 

23 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

impression  from  that  source  could),  whereas  the 
quiet  face  had  a  charm  that  grew  in  proportion 
as  stillness  settled  again.  The  change  to  the 
expression  of  gaiety  excited,  he  made  out,  very 
much  the  private  protest  of  a  person  sitting 
gratefully  in  the  twilight  when  the  lamp  is  brought 
in  too  soon.  His  second  reflexion  was  that,  though 
generally  averse  to  the  flagrant  use  of  ingratiating 
arts  by  a  man  of  age  "  making  up  "  to  a  pretty 
girl,  he  was  not  in  this  case  too  painfully  affected  : 
which  seemed  to  prove  either  that  St.  George  had 
a  light  hand  or  the  air  of  being  younger  than  he 
was,  or  else  that  Miss  Fancourt's  own  manner 
somehow  made  everything  right. 

Overt  walked  with  her  into  the  gallery,  and  they 
strolled  to  the  end  of  it,  looking  at  the  pictures, 
the  cabinets,  the  charming  vista,  which  harmonised 
with  the  prospect  of  the  summer  afternoon,  re- 
sembling it  by  a  long  brightness,  with  great  divans 
and  old  chairs  that  figured  hours  of  rest.  Such  a 
place  as  that  had  the  added  merit  of  giving  those 
who  came  into  it  plenty  to  talk  about.  Miss 
Fancourt  sat  down  with  her  new  acquaintance 
on  a  flowered  sofa,  the  cushions  of  which,  very 
numerous,  were  tight  ancient  cubes  of  many  sizes, 
and  presently  said  :  "  I  'm  so  glad  to  have  a  chance 
to  thank  you." 

"  To  thank  me  —  ?  "     He  had  to  wonder. 
24 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

44 1  liked  your  book  so  much.  I  think  it  splendid." 
She  sat  there  smiling  at  him,  and  he  never  asked 
himself  which  book  she  meant ;  for  after  all  he 
had  written  three  or  four.  That  seemed  a  vulgar 
detail,  and  he  was  n't  even  gratified  by  the  idea 
of  the  pleasure  she  told  him  —  her  handsome 
bright  face  told  him  —  he  had  given  her.  The 
feeling  she  appealed  to,  or  at  any  rate  the  feeling 
she  excited,  was  something  larger,  something  that 
had  little  to  do  with  any  quickened  pulsation  of 
his  own  vanity.  It  was  responsive  admiration 
of  the  life  she  embodied,  the  young  purity  and 
richness  of  which  appeared  to  imply  that  real 
success  was  to  resemble  that,  to  live,  to  bloom, 
to  present  the  perfection  of  a  fine  type,  not  to  have 
hammered  out  headachy  fancies  with  a  bent  back 
at  an  ink-stained  table.  While  her  grey  eyes 
rested  on  him  —  there  was  a  wideish  space  between 
these,  and  the  division  of  her  rich-coloured  hair, 
so  thick  that  it  ventured  to  be  smooth,  made  a 
free  arch  above  them  —  he  was  almost  ashamed 
of  that  exercise  of  the  pen  which  it  was  her  present 
inclination  to  commend.  He  was  conscious  he 
should  have  liked  better  to  please  her  in  some 
other  way.  The  lines  of  her  face  were  those  of  a 
woman  grown,  but  the  child  lingered  on  in  her 
complexion  and  in  the  sweetness  of  her  mouth. 
Above  all  she  was  natural  —  that  was  indubitable 

25 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

now  ;  more  natural  than  he  had  supposed  at 
first,  perhaps  on  account  of  her  aesthetic  toggery, 
which  was  conventionally  unconventional,  sug- 
gesting what  he  might  have  called  a  tortuous 
spontaneity.  He  had  feared  that  sort  of  thing 
in  other  cases,  and  his  fears  had  been  justified  ; 
for,  though  he  was  an  artist  to  the  essence,  the 
modern  reactionary  nymph,  with  the  brambles 
of  the  woodland  caught  in  her  folds  and  a  look  as 
if  the  satyrs  had  toyed  with  her  hair,  made  him 
shrink  not  as  a  man  of  starch  and  patent  leather, 
but  as  a  man  potentially  himself  a  poet  or  even 
a  faun.  The  girl  was  really  more  candid  than  her 
costume,  and  the  best  proof  of  it  was  her  supposing 
her  liberal  character  suited  by  any  uniform.  This 
was  a  fallacy,  since  if  she  was  draped  as  a  pessimist 
he  was  sure  she  liked  the  taste  of  life.  He 
thanked  her  for  her  appreciation  —  aware  at  the 
same  time  that  he  did  n't  appear  to  thank  her 
enough  and  that  she  might  think  him  ungracious. 
He  was  afraid  she  would  ask  him  to  explain 
something  he  had  written,  and  he  always  winced 
at  that  —  perhaps  too  timidly  —  for  to  his  own 
ear  the  explanation  of  a  work  of  art  sounded 
fatuous.  But  he  liked  her  so  much  as  to  feel  a 
confidence  that  in  the  long  run  he  should  be  able 
to  show  her  he  was  n't  rudely  evasive.  Moreover 
she  surely  was  n't  quick  to  take  offence,  was  n't 
26 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

irritable  ;  she  could  be  trusted  to  wait.  So  when 
he  said  to  her,  "  Ah  don't  talk  of  anything  I  've 
done,  don't  talk  of  it  here  ;  there  's  another  man  in 
the  house  who  's  the  actuality ! " — when  he  uttered 
this  short  sincere  protest  it  was  with  the  sense 
that  she  would  see  in  the  words  neither  mock 
humility  nor  the  impatience  of  a  successful  man 
bored  with  praise. 

"  You  mean  Mr.  St.  George  —  is  n't  he  de- 
lightful ?  " 

Paul  Overt  met  her  eyes,  which  had  a  cool 
morning-light  that  would  have  half-broken  his 
heart  if  he  had  n't  been  so  young.  "  Alas  I 
don't  know  him.  I  only  admire  him  at  a  distance." 

"  Oh  you  must  know  him  —  he  wants  so  to  talk 
to  you,"  returned  Miss  Fancourt,  who  evidently 
had  the  habit  of  saying  the  things  that,  by  her 
quick  calculation,  would  give  people  pleasure.  Paul 
saw  how  she  would  always  calculate  on  every- 
thing 's  being  simple  between  others. 

44  I  should  n't  have  supposed  he  knew  anything 
about  me,"  he  professed. 

"  He  does  then  —  everything.  And  if  he  did  n't 
I  should  be  able  to  tell  him." 

44  To  tell  him  everything  ?  "  our  friend  smiled. 

44  You  talk  just  like  the  people  in  your  book  !  " 
she  answered. 

44  Then  they  must  all  talk  alike." 

27 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

She  thought  a  moment,  not  a  bit  disconcerted. 
"  Well,  it  must  be  so  difficult.  Mr.  St.  George 
tells  me  it  is  —  terribly.  I  've  tried  too  —  and  I 
find  it  so.  I  've  tried  to  write  a  novel." 

"  Mr.  St.  George  ought  n't  to  discourage  you," 
Paul  went  so  far  as  to  say. 

"  You  do  much  more  —  when  you  wear  that 
expression." 

"  Well,  after  all,  why  try  to  be  an  artist  ?  " 
the  young  man  pursued.  "  It 's  so  poor  —  so 
poor !  " 

"  I  don't  know  what  you  mean,"  said  Miss 
Fancourt,  who  looked  grave. 

"  I  mean  as  compared  with  being  a  person  of 
action  —  as  living  your  works." 

"  But  what 's  art  but  an  intense  life  —  if  it  be 
real  ?  "  she  asked.  "  I  think  it 's  the  only  one 
—  everything  else  is  so  clumsy  !  "  Her  companion 
laughed,  and  she  brought  out  with  her  charming 
serenity  what  next  struck  her.  "  It 's  so  in- 
teresting to  meet  so  many  celebrated  people." 

"  So  I  should  think  —  but  surely  it  is  n't  new 
to  you." 

"  Why  I  've  never  seen  any  one  —  any  one  : 
living  always  in  Asia." 

The  way  she  talked  of  Asia  somehow  enchanted 
him.  "  But  does  n't  that  continent  swarm  with 
great  figures  ?  Have  n't  you  administered  pro- 
28 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

vinces  in  India  and  had  captive  rajahs  and 
tributary  princes  chained  to  your  car  ?  " 

It  was  as  if  she  did  n't  care  even  should  he 
amuse  himself  at  her  cost.  "  I  was  with  my  father, 
after  I  left  school  to  go  out  there.  It  was  de- 
lightful being  with  him  —  we  're  alone  together 
in  the  world,  he  and  I  —  but  there  was  none  of 
the  society  I  like  best.  One  never  heard  of  a 
picture  —  never  of  a  book,  except  bad  ones." 

"  Never  of  a  picture  ?  Why,  was  n't  all  life  a 
picture  ?  " 

She  looked  over  the  delightful  place  where  they 
sat.  "  Nothing  to  compare  to  this.  I  adore 
England  !  "  she  cried. 

It  fairly  stirred  in  him  the  sacred  chord.  "  Ah 
of  course  I  don't  deny  that  we  must  do  something 
with  her,  poor  old  dear,  yet." 

"  She  has  n't  been  touched,  really,"  said  the 
girl. 

"  Did  Mr.  St.  George  say  that  ?  " 

There  was  a  small  and,  as  he  felt,  harmless  spark 
of  irony  in  his  question  ;  which,  however,  she 
answered  very  simply,  not  noticing  the  insinuation. 
"  Yes,  he  says  England  has  n't  been  touched  — 
not  considering  all  there  is,"  she  went  on  eagerly. 
"  He 's  so  interesting  about  our  country.  To 
listen  to  him  makes  one  want  so  to  do  something." 

"  It  would  make  me  want  to,"  said  Paul  Overt, 

29 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

feeling  strongly,  on  the  instant,  the  suggestion  of 
what  she  said  and  that  of  the  emotion  with  which 
she  said  it,  and  well  aware  of  what  an  incentive, 
on  St.  George's  lips,  such  a  speech  might  be. 

"  Oh  you  —  as  if  you  had  n't !  I  should  like  so 
to  hear  you  talk  together,"  she  added  ardently. 

"  That 's  very  genial  of  you  ;  but  he  'd  have  it 
all  his  own  way.  I  'm  prostrate  before  him." 

She  had  an  air  of  earnestness.  "  Do  you  think 
then  he  's  so  perfect  ?  " 

"  Far  from  it.  Some  of  his  later  books  seem  to 
me  of  a  queerness  — !  " 

"  Yes,  yes  —  he  knows  that." 

Paul  Overt  stared.  "  That  they  seem  to  me 
of  a  queerness  — !  " 

"  Well  yes,  or  at  any  rate  that  they  're  not 
what  they  should  be.  He  told  me  he  did  n't  esteem 
them.  He  has  told  me  such  wonderful  things  — 
he  's  so  interesting." 

There  was  a  certain  shock  for  Paul  Overt  in 
the  knowledge  that  the  fine  genius  they  were 
talking  of  had  been  reduced  to  so  explicit  a  con- 
fession and  had  made  it,  in  his  misery,  to  the  first 
comer  ;  for  though  Miss  Fancourt  was  charming 
what  was  she  after  all  but  an  immature  girl  en- 
countered at  a  country-house  ?  Yet  precisely  this 
was  part  of  the  sentiment  he  himself  had  just 
expressed  :  he  would  make  way  completely  for  the 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

poor  peccable  great  man  not  because  he  did  n't 
read  him  clear,  but  altogether  because  he  did. 
His  consideration  was  half  composed  of  tenderness 
for  superficialities  which  he  was  sure  their  perpe- 
trator judged  privately,  judged  more  ferociously 
than  any  one,  and  which  represented  some  tragic 
intellectual  secret.  He  would  have  his  reasons 
for  his  psychology  a  fleur  de  peau,  and  these  reasons 
could  only  be  cruel  ones,  such  as  would  make  him 
dearer  to  those  who  already  were  fond  of  him. 
"  You  excite  my  envy.  I  have  my  reserves,  I 
discriminate  —  but  I  love  him,"  Paul  said  in  a 
moment.  "  And  seeing  him  for  the  first  time 
this  way  is  a  great  event  for  me." 

"  How  momentous  —  how  magnificent !  "  cried 
the  girl.     "  How  delicious  to  bring  you  together  !  " 
"  Your  doing  it  —  that  makes  it  perfect,"  our 
friend  returned. 

"  He  's  as  eager  as  you,"  she  went  on.  "  But 
it 's  so  odd  you  should  n't  have  met." 

"  It 's  not  really  so  odd  as  it  strikes  you.  I  Ve 
been  out  of  England  so  much  —  made  repeated 
absences  all  these  last  years." 

She  took  this  in  with  interest.  "  And  yet  you 
write  of  it  as  well  as  if  you  were  always  here." 

"  It 's  just  the  being  away  perhaps.  At  any 
rate  the  best  bits,  I  suspect,  are  those  that  were 
done  in  dreary  places  abroad." 

31 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

"  And  why  were  they  dreary  ?  " 

"  Because  they  were  health-resorts  —  where  my 
poor  mother  was  dying." 

"  Your  poor  mother  ?  "  —  she  was  all  sweet 
wonder. 

"  We  went  from  place  to  place  to  help  her  to 
get  better.  But  she  never  did.  To  the  deadly 
Riviera  (I  hate  it !)  to  the  high  Alps,  to  Algiers, 
and  far  away  —  a  hideous  journey  —  to  Colorado." 

"  And  she  is  n't  better  ?  "  Miss  Fancourt  went 
on. 

"  She  died  a  year  ago." 

"  Really  ?  —  like  mine  !  Only  that 's  years 
since.  Some  day  you  must  tell  me  about  your 
mother,"  she  added. 

He  could  at  first,  on  this,  only  gaze  at  her. 
"  What  right  things  you  say  !  If  you  say  them 
to  St.  George  I  do  n't  wonder  he  's  in  bondage." 

It  pulled  her  up  for  a  moment.  "  I  don't  know 
what  you  mean.  He  does  n't  make  speeches  and 
professions  at  all  —  he  is  n't  ridiculous." 

"  I  'm  afraid  you  consider  then  that  I  am." 

"  No,  I  don't "  —  she  spoke  it  rather  shortly. 
And  then  she  added  :  "He  understands  —  under- 
stands everything." 

The  young  man  was  on  the  point  of  saying 
jocosely  :  "  And  I  don't  —  is  that  it  ?  "  But 
these  words,  in  time,  changed  themselves  to  others 
32 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

slightly  less  trivial :  "Do  you  suppose  he  under- 
stands his  wife  ?  " 

Miss  Fancourt  made  no  direct  answer,  but  after 
a  moment's  hesitation  put  it :  "Is  n't  she 
charming  ?  " 

44  Not  in  the  least !  " 

"  Here  he  comes.  Now  you  must  know  him," 
she  went  on.  A  small  group  of  visitors  had 
gathered  at  the  other  end  of  the  gallery  and 
had  been  there  overtaken  by  Henry  St.  George, 
who  strolled  in  from  a  neighbouring  room.  He 
stood  near  them  a  moment,  not  falling  into  the 
talk  but  taking  up  an  old  miniature  from  a  table 
and  vaguely  regarding  it.  At  the  end  of  a  minute 
he  became  aware  of  Miss  Fancourt  and  her  com- 
panion in  the  distance  ;  whereupon,  laying  down 
his  miniature,  he  approached  them  with  the  same 
procrastinating  air,  his  hands  in  his  pockets  and 
his  eyes  turned,  right  and  left,  to  the  pictures. 
The  gallery  was  so  long  that  this  transit  took  some 
little  time,  especially  as  there  was  a  moment  when 
he  stopped  to  admire  the  fine  Gainsborough. 
44  He  says  Mrs.  St.  George  has  been  the  making 
of  him,"  the  girl  continued  in  a  voice  slightly 
lowered. 

44  Ah  he  's  often  obscure  !  "  Paul  laughed. 

44  Obscure  ?  "  she  repeated  as  if  she  heard  it 

for  the  first  time.    Her  eyes  rested  on  her  other 

c  *33 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

friend,  and  it  was  n't  lost  upon  Paul  that  they 
appeared  to  send  out  great  shafts  of  softness. 
"  He  's  going  to  speak  to  us  !  "  she  fondly  breathed. 
There  was  a  sort  of  rapture  in  her  voice,  and  our 
friend  was  startled.  "  Bless  my  soul,  does  she 
care  for  him  like  that  ?  —  is  she  in  love  with  him  ?  " 
he  mentally  enquired.  "  Did  n't  I  tell  you  he 
was  eager  ?  "  she  had  meanwhile  asked  of  him. 

"  It 's  eagerness  dissimulated,"  the  young  man 
returned  as  the  subject  of  their  observation 
lingered  before  his  Gainsborough.  "  He  edges 
toward  us  shyly.  Does  he  mean  that  she  saved 
him  by  burning  that  book  ?  " 

"  That  book  ?    what  book  did   she   burn  ?  " 
The  girl  quickly  turned  her  face  to  him. 
"  Has  n't  he  told  you  then  ?  " 
"  Not  a  word." 

"  Then  he  does  n't  tell  you  everything  !  " 
Paul  had  guessed  that  she  pretty  much  supposed 
he  did.  The  great  man  had  now  resumed  his 
course  and  come  nearer  ;  in  spite  of  which  his 
more  qualified  admirer  risked  a  profane  observa- 
tion :  "  St.  George  and  the  Dragon  is  what  the 
anecdote  suggests  !  " 

His  companion,  however,  did  n't  hear  it ;  she 
smiled  at  the  dragon's  adversary.  "  He  is  eager  — 
he  is  !  "  she  insisted. 

"  Eager  for  you  —  yes." 
34 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

But  meanwhile  she  had  called  out :  "  I  'm  sure 
you  want  to  know  Mr.  Overt.  You  '11  be  great 
friends,  and  it  will  always  be  delightful  to  me 
to  remember  I  was  here  when  you  first  met  and 
that  I  had  something  to  do  with  it." 

There  was  a  freshness  of  intention  in  the  words 
that  carried  them  off ;  nevertheless  our  young 
man  was  sorry  for  Henry  St.  George,  as  he  was 
sorry  at  any  time  for  any  person  publicly  invited 
to  be  responsive  and  delightful.  He  would  have 
been  so  touched  to  believe  that  a  man  he  deeply 
admired  should  care  a  straw  for  him  that  he 
would  n't  play  with  such  a  presumption  if  it 
were  possibly  vain.  In  a  single  glance  of  the  eye 
of  the  pardonable  Master  he  read  —  having  the 
sort  of  divination  that  belonged  to  his  talent  — 
that  this  personage  had  ever  a  store  of  friendly 
patience,  which  was  part  of  his  rich  outfit,  but 
was  versed  in  no  printed  page  of  a  rising  scribbler. 
There  was  even  a  relief,  a  simplification,  in  that  : 
liking  him  so  much  already  for  what  he  had  done, 
how  could  one  have  liked  him  any  more  for  a 
perception  which  must  at  the  best  have  been 
vague  ?  Paul  Overt  got  up,  trying  to  show  his 
compassion,  but  at  the  same  instant  he  found 
himself  encompassed  by  St.  George's  happy 
personal  art  —  a  manner  of  which  it  was  the 
essence  to  conjure  away  false  positions.  It  all 

35 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

took  place  in  a  moment.  Paul  was  conscious 
that  he  knew  him  now,  conscious  of  his  hand- 
shake and  of  the  very  quality  of  his  hand  ;  of  his 
face,  seen  nearer  and  consequently  seen  better, 
of  a  general  fraternising  assurance,  and  in  par- 
ticular of  the  circumstance  that  St.  George  did  n't 
dislike  him  (as  yet  at  least)  for  being  imposed 
by  a  charming  but  too  gushing  girl,  attractive 
enough  without  such  danglers.  No  irritation  at 
any  rate  was  reflected  in  the  voice  with  which  he 
questioned  Miss  Fancourt  as  to  some  project  of  a 
walk  —  a  general  walk  of  the  company  round  the 
park.  He  had  soon  said  something  to  Paul  about 
a  talk  —  "We  must  have  a  tremendous  lot  of 
talk  ;  there  are  so  many  things,  are  n't  there  ?  " 
—  but  our  friend  could  see  this  idea  would  n't  in 
the  present  case  take  very  immediate  effect.  All 
the  same  he  was  extremely  happy,  even  after  the 
matter  of  the  walk  had  been  settled  —  the  three 
presently  passed  back  to  the  other  part  of  the 
gallery,  where  it  was  discussed  with  several 
members  of  the  party  ;  even  when,  after  they  had 
all  gone  out  together,  he  found  himself  for  half 
an  hour  conjoined  with  Mrs.  St.  George.  Her 
husband  had  taken  the  advance  with  Miss  Fan- 
court,  and  this  pair  were  quite  out  of  sight.  It 
was  the  prettiest  of  rambles  for  a  summer  after- 
noon —  a  grassy  circuit,  of  immense  extent, 
36 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

skirting  the  limit  of  the  park  within.  The  park 
was  completely  surrounded  by  its  old  mottled 
but  perfect  red  wall,  which,  all  the  way  on  their 
left,  constituted  in  itself  an  object  of  interest. 
Mrs.  St.  George  mentioned  to  him  the  surprising 
number  of  acres  thus  enclosed,  together  with 
numerous  other  facts  relating  to  the  property  and 
the  family,  and  the  family's  other  properties  : 
she  could  n't  too  strongly  urge  on  him  the  im- 
portance of  seeing  their  other  houses.  She  ran 
over  the  names  of  these  and  rang  the  changes  on 
them  with  the  facility  of  practice,  making  them 
appear  an  almost  endless  list.  She  had  received 
Paul  Overt  very  amiably  on  his  breaking  ground 
with  her  by  the  mention  of  his  joy  in  having 
just  made  her  husband's  acquaintance,  and 
struck  him  as  so  alert  and  so  accommodating 
a  little  woman  that  he  was  rather  ashamed 
of  his  mot  about  her  to  Miss  Fancourt ;  though 
he  reflected  that  a  hundred  other  people,  on  a 
hundred  occasions,  would  have  been  sure  to 
make  it.  He  got  on  with  Mrs.  St.  George,  in  short, 
better  than  he  expected  ;  but  this  did  n't  prevent 
her  suddenly  becoming  aware  that  she  was  faint 
with  fatigue  and  must  take  her  way  back  to  the 
house  by  the  shortest  cut.  She  professed  that 
she  hadn't  the  strength  of  a  kitten  and  was  a 
miserable  wreck  ;  a  character  he  had  been  too 

37 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

preoccupied  to  discern  in  her  while  he  wondered 
in  what  sense  she  could  be  held  to  have  been  the 
making  of  her  husband.  He  had  arrived  at  a 
glimmering  of  the  answer  when  she  announced 
that  she  must  leave  him,  though  this  perception 
was  of  course  provisional.  While  he  was  in  the 
very  act  of  placing  himself  at  her  disposal  for  the 
return  the  situation  underwent  a  change  ;  Lord 
Masham  had  suddenly  turned  up,  coming  back 
to  them,  overtaking  them,  emerging  from  the 
shrubbery  —  Overt  could  scarcely  have  said  how 
he  appeared  —  and  Mrs.  St.  George  had  protested 
that  she  wanted  to  be  left  alone  and  not  to  break 
up  the  party.  A  moment  later  she  was  walking 
off  with  Lord  Masham.  Our  friend  fell  back  and 
joined  Lady  Watermouth,  to  whom  he  presently 
mentioned  that  Mrs.  St.  George  had  been  obliged 
to  renounce  the  attempt  to  go  further. 

44  She  ought  n't  to  have  come  out  at  all,"  her 
ladyship  rather  grumpily  remarked. 
44  Is  she  so  very  much  of  an  invalid  ?  " 
44  Very  bad  indeed."     And  his  hostess  added 
with  still  greater  austerity  :  44  She  ought  n't  really 
to    come    to    one ! "     He    wondered    what    was 
implied  by  this,  and  presently  gathered  that  it 
was  not  a  reflexion  on  the  lady's  conduct  or  her 
moral  nature  :  it  only  represented  that  her  strength 
was  not  equal  to  her  aspirations. 
38 


Ill 


THE  smoking-room  at  Summersoft  was  on  the 
scale  of  the  rest  of  the  place  ;  high  light  com- 
modious and  decorated  with  such  refined  old 
carvings  and  mouldings  that  it  seemed  rather  a 
bower  for  ladies  who  should  sit  at  work  at  fading 
crewels  than  a  parliament  of  gentlemen  smoking 
strong  cigars.  The  gentlemen  mustered  there  in 
considerable  force  on  the  Sunday  evening,  collect- 
ing mainly  at  one  end,  in  front  of  one  of  the  cool 
fair  fireplaces  of  white  marble,  the  entablature  of 
which  was  adorned  with  a  delicate  little  Italian 
44  subject."  There  was  another  in  the  wall  that 
faced  it,  and,  thanks  to  the  mild  summer  night, 
a  fire  in  neither  ;  but  a  nucleus  for  aggregation 
was  furnished  on  one  side  by  a  table  in  the  chimney- 
corner  laden  with  bottles,  decanters  and  tall 
tumblers.  Paul  Overt  was  a  faithless  smoker  ; 
he  would  puff  a  cigarette  for  reasons  with  which 
tobacco  had  nothing  to  do.  This  was  particularly 
the  case  on  the  occasion  of  which  I  speak ;  his 
motive  was  the  vision  of  a  little  direct  talk  with 
Henry  St.  George.  The  "  tremendous "  com- 

39 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

munion  of  which  the  great  man  had  held  out  hopes 
to  him  earlier  in  the  day  had  not  yet  come  off, 
and  this  saddened  him  considerably,  for  the  party 
was   to   go   its   several   ways   immediately   after 
breakfast  on  the  morrow.     He  had,  however,  the 
disappointment   of  finding   that   apparently   the 
author  of  "  Shadowmere  "  was  not  disposed  to 
prolong  his  vigil.     He  was  n't  among  the  gentle- 
men assembled  when  Paul  entered,  nor  was  he 
one  of  those  who  turned  up,  in  bright  habiliments, 
during  the  next  ten  minutes.     The  young  man 
waited  a  little,  wondering  if  he  had  only  gone  to 
put    on    something    extraordinary ;     this    would 
account  for  his  delay  as  well  as  contribute  further 
to  O vert's  impression  of  his  tendency  to  do  Jhe 
approved  superficial  thing.     But  he  did  n't  arrive 
—  he  must  have  been  putting  on  something  more 
extraordinary  than  was  probable.     Our  hero  gave 
him  up,  feeling  a  little  injured,  a  little  wounded, 
at  this  loss  of  twenty  coveted  words.     He  was  n't 
angry,  but  he  puffed  his  cigarette  sighingly,  with 
the  sense  of  something  rare  possibly  missed.     He 
wandered  away  with  his  regret  and  moved  slowly 
round  the  room,  looking  at  the  old  prints  on  the 
walls.     In  this  attitude  he  presently  felt  a  hand 
on  his  shoulder  and  a  friendly  voice  in  his  ear 
"  This  is  good.     I  hoped  I  should  find  you.     I 
came  down  on  purpose."     St.  George  was  there 
40 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

without  a  change  of  dress  and  with  a  fine  face  — 
his  graver  one  —  to  which  our  young  man  all  in  a 
flutter  responded.  He  explained  that  it  was  only 
for  the  Master  —  the  idea  of  a  little  talk  —  that 
he  had  sat  up,  and  that,  not  finding  him,  he  had 
been  on  the  point  of  going  to  bed. 

"  Well,  you  know,  I  don't  smoke  —  my  wife 
does  n't  let  me,"  said  St.  George,  looking  for  a 
place  to  sit  down.  "  It 's  very  good  for  me  — 
very  good  for  me.  Let  us  take  that  sofa." 

"  Do  you  mean  smoking  's  good  for  you  ?  " 

"  No  no  —  her  not  letting  me.  It 's  a  great 
thing  to  have  a  wife  who  's  so  sure  of  all  the 
things  one  can  do  without.  One  might  never 
find  them  out  one's  self.  She  does  n't  allow  me 
to  touch  a  cigarette."  They  took  possession 
of  a  sofa  at  a  distance  from  the  group  of  smokers, 
and  St.  George  went  on  :  "  Have  you  got  one 
yourself  ?  " 

"  Do  you  mean  a  cigarette  ?  " 

"  Dear  no  —  a  wife." 

"  No  ;  and  yet  I  'd  give  up  my  cigarette  for 
one." 

"  You  'd  give  up  a  good  deal  more  than  that," 
St.  George  returned.  "  However,  you  'd  get  a 
great  deal  in  return.  There  's  a  something  to 
be  said  for  wives,"  he  added,  folding  his  arms 
and  crossing  his  outstretched  legs.  He  declined 

41 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

tobacco  altogether  and  sat  there  without  return- 
ing fire.  His  companion  stopped  smoking, 
touched  by  his  courtesy  ;  and  after  all  they  were 
out  of  the  fumes,  their  sofa  was  in  a  far-away 
corner.  It  would  have  been  a  mistake,  St.  George 
went  on,  a  great  mistake  for  them  to  have  separated 
without  a  little  chat  ;  "  for  I  know  all  about  you," 
he  said,  "  I  know  you  're  very  remarkable.  You  've 
written  a  very  distinguished  book." 

"  And  how  do  you  know  it  ?  "  Paul  asked. 

"  Why,  my  dear  fellow,  it  's  in  the  air,  it  's  in 
the  papers,  it  's  everywhere."  St.  George  spoke 
with  the  immediate  familiarity  of  a  confrere  — 
a  tone  that  seemed  to  his  neighbour  the  very 
rustle  of  the  laurel.  "  You  're  on  all  men's  lips 
and,  what  's  better,  on  all  women's.  And  I  've 
just  been  reading  your  book." 

"  Just  ?  You  had  n't  read  it  this  afternoon," 
said  Overt. 

"  How  do  you  know  that  ?  " 

"  I  think  you  should  know  how  I  know  it," 
the  young  man  laughed. 

"  I  suppose  Miss  Fancourt  told  you." 

'*  No  indeed  —  she  led  me  rather  to  suppose  you 


"  Yes  —  that  's   much   more   what   she  'd   do. 
Does  n't  she  shed  a  rosy  glow  over  life  ?     But  you 
did  n't  believe  her  ?  "  asked  St.  George. 
42 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

"  No,  not  when  you  came  to  us  there." 

"  Did  I  pretend  ?  did  I  pretend  badly  ?  "  But 
without  waiting  for  an  answer  to  this  St.  George 
went  on  :  "  You  ought  always  to  believe  such  a 
girl  as  that  —  always,  always.  Some  women  are 
meant  to  be  taken  with  allowances  and  reserves  ; 
but  you  must  take  her  just  as  she  is." 

"  I  like  her  very  much,"  said  Paul  Overt. 

Something  in  his  tone  appeared  to  excite  on  his 
companion's  part  a  momentary  sense  of  the  absurd ; 
perhaps  it  was  the  air  of  deliberation  attending 
this  judgement.  St.  George  broke  into  a  laugh 
to  reply.  "  It 's  the  best  thing  you  can  do  with 
her.  She  's  a  rare  young  lady  !  In  point  of  fact, 
however,  I  confess  I  had  n't  read  you  this  after- 
noon." 

"  Then  you  see  how  right  I  was  in  this  particular 
case  not  to  believe  Miss  Fancourt." 

"  How  right  ?  how  can  I  agree  to  that  when  I 
lost  credit  by  it  ?  " 

"  Do  you  wish  to  pass  exactly  for  what  she  repre- 
sents you  ?  Certainly  you  need  n't  be  afraid," 
Paul  said. 

"  Ah,  my  dear  young  man,  don't  talk  about 
passing  —  for  the  likes  of  me  !     I  'm  passing  away  '* 
—  nothing  else  than  that.     She  has  a  better  use 
for  her  young  imagination  (is  n't  it  fine  ?)  than  in 
4  representing '  in  any  way  such  a  weary  wasted 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

used-up  animal ! "  The  Master  spoke  with  a 
sudden  sadness  that  produced  a  protest  on  Paul's 
part ;  but  before  the  protest  could  be  uttered 
he  went  on,  reverting  to  the  latter' s  striking  novel : 
"  I  had  no  idea  you  were  so  good  —  one  hears  of 
so  many  things.  But  you  're  surprisingly  good." 

"  I  'm  going  to  be  surprisingly  better,"  Overt 
made  bold  to  reply. 

"  I  see  that,  and  it 's  what  fetches  me.  I  don't 
see  so  much  else  —  as  one  looks  about  —  that 's 
going  to  be  surprisingly  better.  They  're  going 
to  be  consistently  worse  —  most  of  the  things. 
It 's  so  much  easier  to  be  worse  —  heaven  knows 
I  've  found  it  so.  I  'm  not  in  a  great  glow,  you 
know,  about  what 's  breaking  out  all  over  the 
place.  But  you  must  be  better  —  you  really 
must  keep  it  up.  I  have  n't  of  course.  It 's 
very  difficult  —  that 's  the  devil  of  the  whole 
thing,  keeping  it  up.  But  I  see  you  '11  be  able 
to.  It  will  be  a  great  disgrace  if  you  don't." 

"  It 's  very  interesting  to  hear  you  speak  of 
yourself ;  but  I  don't  know  what  you  mean  by 
your  allusions  to  your  having  fallen  off,"  Paul 
Overt  observed  with  pardonable  hypocrisy.  He 
liked  his  companion  so  much  now  that  the  fact  of 
any  decline  of  talent  or  of  care  had  ceased  for  the 
moment  to  be  vivid  to  him. 

"  Don't  say  that  —  don't  say  that,"  St.  George 
44 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

returned  gravely,  his  head  resting  on  the  top  of 
the  sofa-back  and  his  eyes  on  the  ceiling.  "  You 
know  perfectly  what  I  mean.  I  have  n't  read 
twenty  pages  of  your  book  without  seeing  that 
you  can  't  help  it." 

44  You  make  me  very  miserable,"  Paul  ecstati- 
cally breathed. 

"  I  'm  glad  of  that,  for  it  may  serve  as  a  kind 
of  warning.  Shocking  enough  it  must  be,  especially 
to  a  young  fresh  mind,  full  of  faith  —  the  spectacle 
of  a  man  meant  for  better  things  sunk  at  my  age 
in  such  dishonour."  St.  George,  in  the  same 
contemplative  attitude,  spoke  softly  but  delib- 
erately, and  without  perceptible  emotion.  His 
tone  indeed  suggested  an  impersonal  lucidity  that 
was  practically  cruel  —  cruel  to  himself  —  and 
made  his  young  friend  lay  an  argumentative  hand 
on  his  arm.  But  he  went  on  while  his  eyes  seemed 
to  follow  the  graces  of  the  eighteenth- century 
ceiling :  "  Look  at  me  well,  take  my  lesson  to 
heart  —  for  it  is  a  lesson.  Let  that  good  come 
of  it  at  least  that  you  shudder  with  your  pitiful 
impression,  and  that  this  may  help  to  keep  you 
straight  in  the  future.  Don't  become  in  your 
old  age  what  I  have  in  mine  —  the  depressing,  the 
deplorable  illustration  of  the  worship  of  false  gods ! ' ' 

44  What  do  you  mean  by  your  old  age  ?  "  the 
young  man  asked. 

45 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  It  has  made  me  old.     But  I  like  your  youth." 

Paul  answered  nothing  —  they  sat  for  a  minute 
in  silence.  They  heard  the  others  going  on  about 
the  governmental  majority.  Then  "  What  do 
you  mean  by  false  gods  ?  "  he  enquired. 

His  companion  had  no  difficulty  whatever  in 
saying,  "  The  idols  of  the  market ;  money  and 
luxury  and  '  the  world  ; '  placing  one's  children  and 
dressing  one's  wife  ;  everything  that  drives  one 
to  the  short  and  easy  way.  Ah  the  vile  things 
they  make  one  do  !  " 

"  But  surely  one  's  right  to  want  to  place  one's 
children." 

"  One  has  no  business  to  have  any  children," 
St.  George  placidly  declared.  "  I  mean  of  course 
if  one  wants  to  do  anything  good." 

"  But  are  n't  they  an  inspiration  —  an  incen- 
tive ?  " 

"  An  incentive  to  damnation,  artistically 
speaking." 

"  You  touch  on  very  deep  things  —  things  I  ' 
should  like  to  discuss  with  you,"  Paul  said.     "  I 
should  like  you  to  tell  me  volumes  about  yourself. 
This  is  a  great  feast  for  me  !  " 

"  Of  course  it  is,  cruel  youth.  But  to  show  you 
I  'm  still  not  incapable,  degraded  as  I  am,  of  an 
act  of  faith,  I  '11  tie  my  vanity  to  the  stake  for  you 
and  burn  it  to  ashes.  You  must  come  and  see  me 
46 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

—  you  must  come  and  see  us,"  the  Master  quickly 
substituted.  "  Mrs.  St.  George  is  charming  ;  I 
don't  know  whether  you  've  had  any  opportunity 
to  talk  with  her.  She  '11  be  delighted  to  see  you  ; 
she  likes  great  celebrities,  whether  incipient  or 
predominant.  You  must  come  and  dine  —  my 
wife  will  write  to  you.  Where  are  you  to  be 
found  ?  " 

"  This  is  my  little  address  "  —  and  Overt  drew 
out  his  pocketbook  and  extracted  a  visiting-card. 
On  second  thoughts,  however,  he  kept  it  back, 
remarking  that  he  wouldn't  trouble  his  friend 
to  take  charge  of  it  but  would  come  and  see  him 
straightway  in  London  and  leave  it  at  his  door  if 
he  should  fail  to  obtain  entrance. 

"Ah  you  '11  probably  fail ;  my  wife  's  always 
out — or  when  she  is  n't  out  is  knocked  up  from 
having  been  out.  You  must  come  and  dine  — 
though  that  won't  do  much  good  either,  for  my 
wife  insists  on  big  dinners."  St.  George  turned  it 
over  further,  but  then  went  on  :  "  You  must  come 
down  and  see  us  in  the  country,  that 's  the  best 
way  ;  we  've  plenty  of  room,  and  it  is  n't  bad." 

"  You  've  a  house  in  the  country  ?  "  Paul  asked 
enviously. 

"  Ah  not  like  this  !  But  we  have  a  sort  of 
place  we  go  to  —  an  hour  from  Euston.  That 's 
one  of  the  reasons." 

47 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

"  One  of  the  reasons  ?  " 

"  Why  my  books  are  so  bad." 

"You  must  tell  me  all  the  others!"  Paul 
longingly  laughed. 

His  friend  made  no  direct  rejoinder  to  this,  but 
spoke  again  abruptly.  "  Why  have  I  never  seen 
you  before  ?  " 

The  tone  of  the  question  was  singularly  flattering 
to  our  hero,  who  felt  it  to  imply  the  great  man's 
now  perceiving  he  had  for  years  missed  something. 
"  Partly,  I  suppose,  because  there  has  been  no 
particular  reason  why  you  should  see  me.  I 
have  n't  lived  in  the  world  —  in  your  world.  I  've 
spent  many  years  out  of  England,  in  different 
places  abroad." 

"  Well,  please  don't  do  it  any  more.  You  must 
do  England  —  there  's  such  a  lot  of  it." 

"  Do  you  mean  I  must  write  about  it  ?  "  and 
Paul  struck  the  note  of  the  listening  candour  of  a 
child. 

"  Of  course  you  must.  And  tremendously  well, 
do  you  mind  ?  That  takes  off  a  little  of  my  esteem 
for  this  thing  of  yours  —  that  it  goes  on  abroad. 
Hang  '  abroad  ! '  Stay  at  home  and  do  things 
here  —  do  subjects  we  can  measure." 

"  I  '11  do  whatever  you  tell  me,"  Overt  said, 
deeply  attentive.  "  But  pardon  me  if  I  say  I 
don't  understand  how  you've  been  reading  my 
48 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

book,"  he  added.  "  I  've  Tiad  you  before  me 
all  the  afternoon,  first  in  that  long  walk,  then 
at  tea  on  the  lawn,  till  we  went  to  dress  for 
dinner,  and  all  the  evening  at  dinner  and  in  this 
place." 

St.  George  turned  his  face  about  with  a  smile. 
"  I  gave  it  but  a  quarter  of  an  hour." 

44  A  quarter  of  an  hour  's  immense,  but  I  don't 
understand  where  you  put  it  in.  In  the  drawing- 
room  after  dinner  you  were  n't  reading  —  you 
were  talking  to  Miss  Fancourt." 

44  It  comes  to  the  same  thing,  because  we  talked 
about  4  Ginistrella.'  She  described  it  to  me  — 
she  lent  me  her  copy." 

44  Lent  it  to  you  ?  " 

44  She  travels  with  it." 

44  It 's  incredible,"  Paul  blushed. 

44  It 's  glorious  for  you,  but  it  also  turned  out 
very  well  for  me.  When  the  ladies  went  off  to 
bed  she  kindly  offered  to  send  the  book  down  to 
me.  Her  maid  brought  it  to  me  in  the  hall  and  I 
went  to  my  room  with  it.  I  had  n't  thought  of 
coming  here,  I  do  that  so  little.  But  I  don't 
sleep  early,  I  always  have  to  read  an  hour  or  two. 
I  sat  down  to  your  novel  on  the  spot,  without 
undressing,  without  taking  off  anything  but  my 
coat.  I  think  that 's  a  sign  my  curiosity  had  been 
strongly  roused  about  it.  I  read  a  quarter  of  an 
D  49 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

hour,  as  I  tell  you,  and  even  in  a  quarter  of  an 
hour  I  was  greatly  struck." 

44  Ah  the  beginning  is  n't  very  good  —  it 's  the 
whole  thing  !  "  said  Overt,  who  had  listened  to 
this  recital  with  extreme  interest.  "  And  you 
laid  down  the  book  and  came  after  me  ?  "  he 
asked. 

"  That 's  the  way  it  moved  me.  I  said  to  my- 
self *  I  see  it 's  off  his  own  bat,  and  he  's  there, 
by  the  way,  and  the  day  's  over  and  I  have  n't 
said  twenty  words  to  him.'  It  occurred  to  me 
that  you  'd  probably  be  in  the  smoking-room  and 
that  it  would  n't  be  too  late  to  repair  my  omission. 
I  wanted  to  do  something  civil  to  you,  so  I  put 
on  my  coat  and  came  down.  I  shall  read  your 
book  again  when  I  go  up." 

Our  friend  faced  round  in  his  place  —  he  was 
touched  as  he  had  scarce  ever  been  by  the  picture 
of  such  a  demonstration  in  his  favour.  "  You  're 
really  the  kindest  of  men.  Cela  s'  est  passe  comme 
$a  ?  —  and  I  've  been  sitting  here  with  you  all 
this  time  and  never  apprehended  it  and  never 
thanked  you  !  " 

44  Thank  Miss  Fancourt  —  it  was  she  who  wound 
me  up.  She  has  made  me  feel  as  if  I  had  read 
your  novel." 

44  She  's  an  angel  from  heaven  !  "  Paul  declared. 

44  She  is  indeed.  I  Ve  never  seen  any  one  like 
50 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

her.  Her  interest  in  literature 's  touching  — 
something  quite  peculiar  to  herself ;  she  takes 
it  all  so  seriously.  She  feels  the  arts  and  she  wants 
to  feel  them  more.  To  those  who  practise  them 
it's  almost  humiliating  —  her  curiosity,  her 
sympathy,  her  good  faith.  How  can  anything 
be  as  fine  as  she  supposes  it  ?  " 

"  She  's  a  rare  organisation,"  the  younger  man 
sighed. 

"  The  richest  I  've  ever  seen  —  an  artistic 
intelligence  really  of  the  first  order.  And  lodged 
in  such  a  form  !  "  St.  George  exclaimed. 

"  One  would  like  to  represent  such  a  girl  as 
that,"  Paul  continued. 

"  Ah  there  it  is  —  there  's  nothing  like  life  !  " 
said  his  companion.  "  When  you  're  finished, 
squeezed  dry  and  used  up  and  you  think  the  sack  's 
empty,  you  're  still  appealed  to,  you  still  get 
touches  and  thrills,  the  idea  springs  up  —  out 
of  the  lap  of  the  actual  —  and  shows  you  there  's 
always  something  to  be  done.  But  I  shan't 
do  it  —  she  's  not  for  me  !  " 

"  How  do  you  mean,  not  for  you  ?  " 

"Oh  it 's  all  over  —  she 's  for  you,  if  you 
like." 

"  Ah  much  less  !  "  said  Paul.  "  She  's  not  for 
a  dingy  little  man  of  letters  ;  she  's  for  the  world, 
the  bright  rich  world  of  bribes  and  rewards.  And 

51 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

the  world  will  take  hold  of  her  —  it  will  carry  her 
away." 

"  It  will  try  —  but  it 's  just  a  case  in  which 
there  may  be  a  fight.  It  would  be  worth  fighting, 
for  a  man  who  had  it  in  him,  with  youth  and  talent 
on  his  side." 

These  words  rang  not  a  little  in  Paul  Overt's 
consciousness  —  they  held  him  briefly  silent. 
"  It 's  a  wonder  she  has  remained  as  she  is  ; 
giving  herself  away  so  —  with  so  much  to  give 
away." 

"  Remaining,  you  mean,  so  ingenuous  —  so 
natural  ?  Oh  she  does  n't  care  a  straw  —  she 
gives  away  because  she  overflows.  She  has  her 
own  feelings,  her  own  standards  ;  she  does  n't 
keep  remembering  that  she  must  be  proud.  And 
then  she  has  n't  been  here  long  enough  to  be 
spoiled  ;  she  has  picked  up  a  fashion  or  two, 
but  only  the  amusing  ones.  She  's  a  provincial 
—  a  provincial  of  genius,"  St.  George  went  on  ; 
"  her  very  blunders  are  charming,  her  mistakes 
are  interesting.  She  has  come  back  from  Asia 
with  all  sorts  of  excited  curiosities  and  unappeased 
appetities.  She  's  first-rate  herself  and  she  ex- 
pends herself  on  the  second-rate.  She 's  life 
herself  and  she  takes  a  rare  interest  in  imitations. 
She  mixes  all  things  up,  but  there  are  none  in 
regard  to  which  she  has  n't  perceptions.  She 
52 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

sees  things  in  a  perspective  —  as  if  from  the  top 
of  the  Himalayas  —  and  she  enlarges  every- 
thing she  touches.  Above  all  she  exaggerates  — 
to  herself,  I  mean.  She  exaggerates  you  and 
me!" 

There  was  nothing  in  that  description  to  allay 
the  agitation  caused  in  our  younger  friend  by 
such  a  sketch  of  a  fine  subject.  It  seemed  to  him 
to  show  the  art  of  St.  George's  admired  hand, 
and  he  lost  himself  in  gazing  at  the  vision  —  this 
hovered  there  before  him  —  of  a  woman's  figure 
which  should  be  part  of  the  glory  of  a  novel. 
But  at  the  end  of  a  moment  the  thing  had  turned 
into  smoke,  and  out  of  the  smoke  —  the  last  puff 
of  a  big  cigar  —  proceeded  the  voice  of  General 
Fancourt,  who  had  left  the  others  and  come 
and  planted  himself  before  the  gentlemen  on  the 
sofa.  "  I  suppose  that  when  you  fellows  get 
talking  you  sit  up  half  the  night." 

"  Half  the  night  ?  —  jamais  de  la  vie  !  I  follow 
a  hygiene  "  —  and  St.  George  rose  to  his  feet. 

"  I  see — you  're  hothouse  plants,"  laughed  the 
General.  "  That 's  the  way  you  produce  your 
flowers." 

"  I  produce  mine  between  ten  and  one  every 
morning  —  I  bloom  with  a  regularity  I  "  St. 
George  went  on. 

"  And  with  a  splendour ! "  added  the  polite 

53 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

General,  while  Paul  noted  how  little  the  author 
of  "  Shadowmere  "  minded,  as  he  phrased  it  to 
himself,  when  addressed  as  a  celebrated  story- 
teller. The  young  man  had  an  idea  he  should 
never  get  used  to  that ;  it  would  always  make 
him  uncomfortable  —  from  the  suspicion  that 
people  would  think  they  had  to  —  and  he  would 
want  to  prevent  it.  Evidently  his  great  colleague 
had  toughened  and  hardened  —  had  made  him- 
self a  surface.  The  group  of  men  had  finished 
their  cigars  and  taken  up  their  bedroom  candle- 
sticks ;  but  before  they  all  passed  out  Lord 
Watermouth  invited  the  pair  of  guests  who  had 
been  so  absorbed  together  to  "  have  "  something. 
It  happened  that  they  both  declined  ;  upon  which 
General  Fancourt  said  :,,  "Is  that  the  hygiene  ? 
You  don't  water  the  flowers  ?  " 

"  Oh  I  should  drown  them  1  "  St.  George  replied; 
but,  leaving  the  room  still  at  his  young  friend's  side, 
he  added  whimsically,  for  the  latter' s  benefit,  in 
a  lower  tone  :  "  My  wife  does  n't  let  me." 

"  Well  I  'm  glad  I  'm  not  one  of  you  fellows  !  " 
the  General  richly  concluded. 

The  nearness  of  Summersoft  to  London  had 
this  consequence,  chilling  to  a  person  who  had 
had  a  vision  of  sociability  in  a  railway-carriage, 
that  most  of  the  company,  after  breakfast,  drove 
back  to  town,  entering  their  own  vehicles,  which 
54 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

had  come  out  to  fetch  them,  while  their  servants 
returned  by  train  with  their  luggage.  Three  or 
four  young  men,  among  whom  was  Paul  Overt, 
also  availed  themselves  of  the  common  con- 
venience ;  but  they  stood  in  the  portico  of  the 
house  and  saw  the  others  roll  away.  Miss  Fan- 
court  got  into  a  victoria  with  her  father  after  she 
had  shaken  hands  with  our  hero  and  said,  smiling 
in  the  frankest  way  in  the  world,  "  I  must  see  you 
more.  Mrs.  St.  George  is  so  nice  :  she  has  prom- 
ised to  ask  us  both  to  dinner  together."  This 
lady  and  her  husband  took  their  places  in  a 
perfectly-appointed  brougham  —  she  required  a 
closed  carriage  —  and  as  our  young  man  waved 
his  hat  to  them  in  response  to  their  nods  and 
flourishes  he  reflected  that,  taken  together,  they 
were  an  honourable  image  of  success,  of  the 
material  rewards  and  the  social  credit  of  literature. 
Such  things  were  not  the  full  measure,  but  he 
nevertheless  felt  a  little  proud  for  literature. 


55 


IV 


BEFORE  a  week  had  elapsed  he  met  Miss  Fan- 
court  in  Bond  Street,  at  a  private  view  of  the 
works  of  a  young  artist  in  "  black-and-white  " 
who  had  been  so  good  as  to  invite  him  to  the 
stuffy  scene.  The  drawings  were  admirable,  but 
the  crowd  in  the  one  little  room  was  so  dense  that 
he  felt  himself  up  to  his  neck  in  a  sack  of  wool. 
A  fringe  of  people  at  the  outer  edge  endeavoured 
by  curving  forward  their  backs  and  presenting, 
below  them,  a  still  more  convex  surface  of  re- 
sistance to  the  pressure  of  the  mass,  to  preserve 
an  interval  between  their  noses  and  the  glazed 
mounts  of  the  pictures  ;  while  the  central  body, 
in  the  comparative  gloom  projected  by  a  wide 
horizontal  screen  hung  under  the  skylight  and 
allowing  only  a  margin  for  the  day,  remained 
upright  dense  and  vague,  lost  in  the  contemplation 
of  its  own  ingredients.  This  contemplation  sat 
especially  in  the  sad  eyes  of  certain  female  heads, 
surmounted  with  hats  of  strange  convolution  and 
plumage,  which  rose  on  long  necks  above  the  others. 
One  of  the  heads  Paul  perceived,  was  much  the 
56 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

most  beautiful  of  the  collection,  and  his  next 
discovery  was  that  it  belonged  to  Miss  Fancourt. 
Its  beauty  was  enhanced  by  the  glad  smile  she 
sent  him  across  surrounding  obstructions,  a  smile 
that  drew  him  to  her  as  fast  as  he  could  make  his 
way.  He  had  seen  for  himself  at  Summersoft 
that  the  last  thing  her  nature  contained  was  an 
affectation  of  indifference  ;  yet  even  with  this 
circumspection  he  took  a  fresh  satisfaction  in  her 
not  having  pretended  to  await  his  arrival  with 
composure.  She  smiled  as  radiantly  as  if  she 
wished  to  make  him  hurry,  and  as  soon  as  he 
came  within  earshot  she  broke  out  in  her  voice 
of  joy  :  "  He  's  here  —  he  's  here  —  he  's  coming 
back  in  a  moment !  " 

"  Ah  your  father  ? "  Paul  returned  as  she 
offered  him  her  hand. 

"  Oh  dear  no,  this  is  n't  in  my  poor  father's 
line.  I  mean  Mr.  St.  George.  He  has  just  left 
me  to  speak  to  some  one  —  he  's  coming  back. 
It 's  he  who  brought  me  —  was  n't  it  charming  ?  " 

44  Ah  that  gives  him  a  pull  over  me  —  I  could  n't 
have  4  brought '  you,  could  I  ?  " 

44  If  you  had  been  so  kind  as  to  propose  it  —  why 
not  you  as  well  as  he  ?  "  the  girl  returned  with 
a  face  that,  expressing  no  cheap  coquetry,  simply 
affirmed  a  happy  fact. 

44  Why  he's  a  pere  de  famille.  They've 

57 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

privileges,"  Paul  explained.  And  then  quickly  : 
"  Will  you  go  to  see  places  with  me  ?  "  he  asked. 

44  Anything  you  like  !  "  she  smiled.  44 1  know 
what  you  mean,  that  girls  have  to  have  a  lot  of 

people "      Then  she  broke  off :    44 1  don't 

know ;  I  'm  free.  I  've  always  been  like  that — I 
can  go  about  with  any  one.  I  'm  so  glad  to  meet 
you,"  she  added  with  a  sweet  distinctness  that 
made  those  near  her  turn  round. 

44  Let  me  at  least  repay  that  speech  by  taking 
you  out  of  this  squash,"  her  friend  said.  44  Surely 
people  are  n't  happy  here  !  " 

44  No,  they  're  awfully  mornes,  are  n't  they  ?  But 
I'm  very  happy  indeed  and  I  promised  Mr.  St. 
George  to  remain  in  this  spot  till  he  comes  back. 
He  's  going  to  take  me  away.  They  send  him 
invitations  for  things  of  this  sort  —  more  than 
he  wants.  It  was  so  kind  of  him  to  think  of  me." 

44  They  also  send  me  invitations  of  this  kind  — 
more  than  I  want.  And  if  thinking  of  you  will 
do  it !  "  Paul  went  on. 

44  Oh  I  delight  in  them  —  everything  that 's  life 
—  everything  that 's  London  !  " 

44  They  don't  have  private  views  in  Asia,  I 
suppose,"  he  laughed.  44  But  what  a  pity  that 
for  this  year,  even  in  this  gorged  city,  they  're 
pretty  well  over." 

44  Well,  next  year  will  do,  for  I  hope  you  believe 
58 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

we  're  going  to  be  friends  always.  Here  he  comes  !  " 
Miss  Fancourt  continued  before  Paul  had  time 
to  respond. 

He  made  out  St.  George  in  the  gaps  of  the  crowd, 
and  this  perhaps  led  to  his  hurrying  a  little  to  say  : 
"  I  hope  that  does  n't  mean  I  'm  to  wait  till  next 
year  to  see  you." 

"  No,  no  —  are  n't  we  to  meet  at  dinner  on  the 
twenty-fifth  ? "  she  panted  with  an  eagerness 
as  happy  as  his  own. 

"  That 's  almost  next  year.  Is  there  no  means 
of  seeing  you  before  ?  " 

She  stared  with  all  her  brightness.  "  Do  you 
mean  you  'd  come  ?  " 

"  Like  a  shot,  if  you  '11  be  so  good  as  to  ask 
me  1  " 

"  On  Sunday  then  —  this  next  Sunday  ?  " 

"  What  have  I  done  that  you  should  doubt  it  ?  " 
the  young  man  asked  with  delight. 

Miss  Fancourt  turned  instantly  to  St.  George, 
who  had  now  joined  them,  and  announced 
triumphantly  :  He  's  coming  on  Sunday  —  this 
next  Sunday  !  " 

"  Ah  my  day  —  my  day  too  !  "  said  the  famous 
novelist,  laughing,  to  their  companion. 

"  Yes,  but  not  yours  only.  You  shall  meet  in 
Manchester  Square  ;  you  shall  talk  —  you  shall  be 
wonderful ! " 

59 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  We  don't  meet  often  enough,"  St.  George 
allowed,  shaking  hands  with  his  disciple.  "  Too 
many  things  —  ah  too  many  things  !  But  we 
must  make  it  up  in  the  country  in  September. 
You  won 't  forget  you  've  promised  me 
that  ?  " 

"  Why  he 's  coming  on  the  twenty-fifth  — 
you  '11  see  him  then,"  said  the  girl. 

"  On  the  twenty-fifth  ?  "  St.  George  asked 
vaguely. 

"  We  dine  with  you  ;  I  hope  you  have  n't  for- 
gotten. He  's  dining  out  that  day,"  she  added 
gaily  to  Paul. 

"Oh  bless  me,  yes  —  that's  charming!  And 
you  're  coming  ?  My  wife  did  n't  tell  me,"  St. 
George  said  to  him.  "  Too  many  things  —  too 
many  things  !  "  he  repeated. 

"  Too  many  people  —  too  many  people  !  " 
Paul  exclaimed,  giving  ground  before  the  pene- 
tration of  an  elbow. 

"  You  ought  n't  to  say  that.  They  all  read 
you." 

44  Me  ?  I  should  like  to  see  them  !  Only  two 
or  three  at  most,"  the  young  man  returned. 

"  Did  you  ever  hear  anything  like  that  ?  He 
knows,  haughtily,  how  good  he  is  !  "  St.  George 
declared,  laughing  to  Miss  Fancourt.  "  They  read 
me,  but  that  does  n't  make  me  like  them  any 
60 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

better.    Come  away  from  them,  come  away  I  " 
And  he  led  the  way  out  of  the  exhibition. 

"  He  's  going  to  take  me  to  the  Park,"  Miss 
Fancourt  observed  to  Overt  with  elation  as  they 
passed  along  the  corridor  that  led  to  the  street. 

"  Ah  does  he  go  there  ?  "  Paul  asked,  taking 
the  fact  for  a  somewhat  unexpected  illustration 
of  St.  George's  moeurs. 

"  It 's  a  beautiful  day  —  there  '11  be  a  great 
crowd.  We  're  going  to  look  at  the  people,  to 
look  at  types,"  the  girl  went  on.  "  We  shall  sit 
under  the  trees  ;  we  shall  walk  by  the  Row." 

"  I  go  once  a  year  —  on  business,"  said  St. 
George,  who  had  overheard  Paul's  question. 

"  Or  with  a  country  cousin,  did  n't  you  tell  me  ? 
I  'm  the  country  cousin  !  "  she  continued  over 
her  shoulder  to  Paul  as  their  friend  drew  her  to- 
ward a  hansom  to  which  he  had  signalled.  The 
young  man  watched  them  get  in  ;  he  returned, 
as  he  stood  there,  the  friendly  wave  of  the  hand 
with  which,  ensconced  in  the  vehicle  beside  her, 
St.  George  took  leave  of  him.  He  even  lingered 
to  see  the  vehicle  start  away  and  lose  itself  in 
the  confusion  of  Bond  Street.  He  followed  it  with 
his  eyes  ;  it  put  to  him  embarrassing  things. 
"  She  's  not  for  me  !  "  the  great  novelist  had  said 
emphatically  at  Summersoft ;  but  his  manner 
of  conducting  himself  toward  her  appeared  not 

61 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

quite  in  harmony  with  such  a  conviction.  How 
could  he  have  behaved  differently  if  she  had  been 
for  him  ?  An  indefinite  envy  rose  in  Paul  O vert's 
heart  as  he  took  his  way  on  foot  alone  ;  a  feeling 
addressed  alike  strangely  enough,  to  each  of  the 
occupants  of  the  hansom.  How  much  he  should 
like  to  rattle  about  London  with  such  a  girl !  How 
much  he  should  like  to  go  and  look  at  "  types  " 
with  St.  George  ! 

The  next  Sunday  at  four  o'clock  he  called  in 
Manchester  Square,  where  his  secret  wish  was 
gratified  by  his  finding  Miss  Fancourt  alone.  She 
was  in  a  large  bright  friendly  occupied  room, 
which  was  painted  red  all  over,  draped  with  the 
quaint  cheap  florid  stuffs  that  are  represented 
as  coming  from  southern  and  eastern  countries, 
where  they  are  fabled  to  serve  as  the  counterpanes 
of  the  peasantry,  and  bedecked  with  pottery  of 
vivid  hues,  ranged  on  casual  shelves,  and  with 
many  water-colour  drawings  from  the  hand  (as 
the  visitor  learned)  of  the  young  lady  herself,  com- 
memorating with  a  brave  breadth  the  sunsets, 
the  mountains,  the  temples  and  palaces  of  India. 
He  sat  an  hour  —  more  than  an  hour,  two  hours 
—  and  all  the  while  no  one  came  in.  His  hostess 
was  so  good  as  to  remark,  with  her  liberal  humanity, 
that  it  was  delightful  they  were  n't  interrupted  ; 
it  was  so  rare  in  London,  especially  at  that  season, 
62 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

that  people  got  a  good  talk.  But  luckily  now, 
of  a  fine  Sunday,  half  the  world  went  out  of 
town,  and  that  made  it  better  for  those  who 
did  n't  go,  wh^n  these  others  were  in  sympathy. 
It  was  the  defect  of  London  —  one  of  two  or 
three,  the  very  short  list  of  those  she  recognised 
in  the  teeming  world-city  she  adored  —  that 
there  were  too  few  good  chances  for  talk ;  you 
never  had  time  to  carry  anything  far. 

"  Too  many  things  —  too  many  things  !  "  Paul 
said,  quoting  St.  George's  exclamation  of  a  few 
days  before. 

*'  Ah  yes,  for  him  there  are  too  many  —  his  life  's 
too  complicated." 

"  Have  you  seen  it  near  ?  That 's  what  I 
should  like  to  do ;  it  might  explain  some 
mysteries,"  her  visitor  went  on.  She  asked  him 
what  mysteries  he  meant,  and  he  said  :  "  Oh 
peculiarities  of  his  work,  inequalities,  super- 
ficialities. For  one  who  looks  at  it  from  the 
artistic  point  of  view  it  contains  a  bottomless 
ambiguity." 

She  became  at  this,  on  the  spot,  all  intensity. 
"  Ah  do  describe  that  more  —  it 's  so  interesting. 
There  are  no  such  suggestive  questions.  I  'm 
so  fond  of  them.  He  thinks  he 's  a  failure  — 
fancy  !  "  she  beautifully  wailed. 

"  That  depends  on  what  his  ideal  may  have 

63 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

been.    With  his  gifts  it  ought  to  have  been  high. 
But  till  one  knows  what  he  really  proposed  to 

himself ?     Do  you  know  by  chance  ?  "    the 

young  man  broke  off. 

"Oh  he  doesn  't  talk  to  me  about  himself. 
I  can  't  make  him.  It 's  too  provoking." 

Paul  was  on  the  point  of  asking  what  then  he 
did  talk  about,  but  discretion  checked  it  and  he 
said  instead  :  "  Do  you  think  he  's  unhappy  at 
home  ?  " 

She  seemed  to  wonder.     "  At  home  ?  " 

"  I  mean  in  his  relations  with  his  wife.  He 
has  a  mystifying  little  way  of  alluding  to 
her." 

"  Not  to  me,"  said  Marian  Fancourt  with  her 
clear  eyes.  "  That  would  n't  be  right,  would  it  ?  " 
she  asked  gravely. 

"  Not  particularly  ;  so  I  'm  glad  he  does  n't 
mention  her  to  you.  To  praise  her  might  bore 
you,  and  he  has  no  business  to  do  anything  else. 
Yet  he  knows  you  better  than  me." 

44  Ah  but  he  respects  you  I  "  the  girl  cried  as 
with  envy. 

Her  visitor  stared  a  moment,  then  broke  int:> 
a  laugh.  44  Does  n't  he  respect  you  ?  " 

44  Of  course,  but  not  in  the  same  way.    He 
respects  what  you  've  done  —  he  told  me  so,  the 
other  day." 
64 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

Paul  drank  it  in,  but  retained  his  faculties. 
"  When  you  went  to  look  at  types  ?  " 

"  Yes  —  we  found  so  many  :  he  has  such  an 
observation  of  them  !  He  talked  a  great  deal  about 
your  book.  He  says  it 's  really  important." 

"  Important !  Ah  the  grand  creature !  "  —  and 
the  author  of  the  work  in  question  groaned  for  joy. 

"  He  was  wonderfully  amusing,  he  was  in- 
expressibly droll,  while  we  walked  about.  He 
sees  everything  ;  he  has  so  many  comparisons 
and  images,  and  they  're  always  exactly  right. 
C'est  d'un  trouve,  as  they  say." 

"  Yes,  with  his  gifts,  such  things  as  he  ought 
to  have  done  !  "  Paul  sighed. 

"  And  don't  you  think  he  has  done  them  ?  " 

Ah  it  was  just  the  point.  "  A  part  of  them,  and 
of  course  even  that  part 's  immense.  But  he 
might  have  been  one  of  the  greatest.  However, 
let  us  not  make  this  an  hour  of  qualifications. 
Even  as  they  stand,"  our  friend  earnestly  con- 
cluded, "  his  writings  are  a  mine  of  gold." 

To  this  proposition  she  ardently  responded, 
and  for  half  an  hour  the  pair  talked  over  the 
Master's  principal  productions.  She  knew  them 
well  —  she  knew  them  even  better  than  her 
visitor,  who  was  struck  with  her  critical  intelli- 
gence and  with  something  large  and  bold  in  the 
movement  in  her  mind.  She  said  things  that 
E  65 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

startled  him  and  that  evidently  had  come  to  her 
directly  ;  they  were  n't  picked-up  phrases  —  she 
placed  them  too  well.  St.  George  had  been  right 
about  her  being  first-rate,  about  her  not  being 
afraid  to  gush,  not  remembering  that  she  must 
be  proud.  Suddenly  something  came  back  to 
her,  and  she  said  :  "I  recollect  that  he  did  speak 
of  Mrs.  St.  George  to  me  once.  He  said,  apropos 
of  something  or  other,  that  she  did  n't  care  for 
perfection." 

44  That 's  a  great  crime  in  an  artist's  wife," 
Paul  returned. 

44  Yes,  poor  thing  !  "  and  the  girl  sighed  with 
a  suggestion  of  many  reflexions,  some  of  them 
mitigating.  But  she  presently  added :  44  Ah 
perfection,  perfection  —  how  one  ought  to  go  in 
for  it !  I  wish  /  could." 

44  Every  one  can  in  his  way,"  her  companion 
opined. 

44  In  his  way,  yes  —  but  not  in  hers.  Women  are 
so  hampered  —  so  condemned  !  Yet  it 's  a  kind 
of  dishonour  if  you  don't,  when  you  want  to  do 
something,  is  n't  it  ?  "  Miss  Fancourt  pursued, 
dropping  one  train  in  her  quickness  to  take  up 
another,  an  accident  that  was  common  with  her. 
So  these  two  young  persons  sat  discussing  high 
themes  in  their  eclectic  drawing-room,  in  their 
London  "  season  "  —  discussing,  with  extreme 
66 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

seriousness,  the  high  theme  of  perfection.  It  must 
be  said  in  extenuation  of  this  eccentricity  that  they 
were  interested  in  the  business.  Their  tone  had 
truth  and  their  emotion  beauty  ;  they  were  n't 
posturing  for  each  other  or  for  some  one  else. 

The  subject  was  so  wide  that  they  found  them- 
selves reducing  it ;  the  perfection  to  which  for  the 
moment  they  agreed  to  confine  their  speculations 
was  that  of  the  valid,  the  exemplary  work  of  art. 
Our  young  woman 's  imagination,  it  appeared, 
had  wandered  far  in  that  direction,  and  her  guest 
had  the  rare  delight  of  feeling  in  their  conversa- 
tion a  full  interchange.  This  episode  will  have 
lived  for  years  in  his  memory  and  even  in  his 
wonder ;  it  had  the  quality  that  fortune  distils 
in  a  single  drop  at  a  time  —  the  quality  that 
lubricates  many  ensuing  frictions.  He  still, 
whenever  he  likes,  has  a  vision  of  the  room,  the 
bright  red  sociable  talkative  room  with  the  curtains 
that,  by  a  stroke  of  successful  audacity,  had  the 
note  of  vivid  blue.  He  remembers  where  certain 
things  stood,  the  particular  book  open  on  the 
table  and  the  almost  intense  odour  of  the  flowers 
placed,  at  the  left,  somewhere  behind  him.  These 
facts  were  the  fringe,  as  it  were,  of  a  fine  special 
agitation  which  had  its  birth  in  those  two  hours 
and  of  which  perhaps  the  main  sign  was  in  its 
leading  him  inwardly  and  repeatedly  to  breathe 

67 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  I  had  no  idea  there  was  any  one  like  this  —  I 
had  no  idea  there  was  any  one  like  this  !  "  Her 
freedom  amazed  him  and  charmed  him  —  it 
seemed  so  to  simplify  the  practical  question.  She 
was  on  the  footing  of  an  independent  personage  — 
a  motherless  girl  who  had  passed  out  of  her  teens 
and  had  a  position  and  responsibilities,  who 
was  n't  held  down  to  the  limitations  of  a  little 
miss.  She  came  and  went  with  no  dragged 
duenna,  she  received  people  alone,  and,  though 
she  was  totally  without  hardness,  the  question 
of  protection  or  patronage  had  no  relevancy  in 
regard  to  her.  She  gave  such  an  impression  of 
the  clear  and  the  noble  combined  with  the  easy 
and  the  natural  that  in  spite  of  her  eminent 
modern  situation  she  suggested  no  sort  of  sister- 
hood with  the  "  fast "  girl.  Modern  she  was 
indeed,  and  made  Paul  Overt,  who  loved  old 
colour,  the  golden  glaze  of  time,  think  with  some 
alarm  of  the  muddled  palette  of  the  future.  He 
could  n't  get  used  to  her  interest  in  the  arts  he 
cared  for  ;  it  seemed  too  good  to  be  real  —  it 
was  so  unlikely  an  adventure  to  tumble  into 
such  a  well  of  sympathy.  One  might  stray 
into  the  desert  easily  —  that  was  on  the  cards 
and  that  was  the  law  of  life  ;  but  it  was  too  rare 
an  accident  to  stumble  on  a  crystal  well.  Yet 
if  her  aspirations  seemed  at  one  moment  too 
68 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

extravagant  to  be  real  they  struck  him  at  the 
next  as  too  intelligent  to  be  false.  They  were 
both  high  and  lame,  and,  whims  for  whims,  he 
preferred  them  to  any  he  had  met  in  a  like  relation. 
It  was  probable  enough  she  would  leave  them 
behind  —  exchange  them  for  politics  or  "  smart- 
ness "  or  mere  prolific  maternity,  as  was  the 
custom  of  scribbling  daubing  educated  flattered 
girls  in  an  age  of  luxury  and  a  society  of  leisure. 
He  noted  that  the  water-colours  on  the  walls  of 
the  room  she  sat  in  had  mainly  the  quality  of 
being  naives,  and  reflected  that  naivete  in  art 
is  like  a  zero  hi  a  number  :  its  importance  depends 
on  the  figure  it  is  united  with.  Meanwhile,  how- 
ever, he  had  fallen  in  love  with  her.  Before  he 
went  away,  at  any  rate,  he  said  to  her  :  "I 
thought  St.  George  was  coming  to  see  you  to-day, 
but  he  does  n't  turn  up." 

For  a  moment  he  supposed  she  was  going  to 
cry  "  Comment  done  ?  Did  you  come  here 
only  to  meet  him  ?  "  But  the  next  he  became 
aware  of  how  little  such  a  speech  would  have  fallen 
in  with  any  note  of  flirtation  he  had  as  yet  per- 
ceived in  her.  She  only  replied  :  "Ah  yes,  but 
I  don't  think  he  '11  come.  He  recommended  me 
not  to  expect  him."  Then  she  gaily  but  all  gently 
added  :  "  He  said  it  was  n't  fair  to  you.  But  I 
think  I  could  manage  two." 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  So  could  I,"  Paul  Overt  returned,  stretching 
the  point  a  little  to  meet  her.  In  reality  his 
appreciation  of  the  occasion  was  so  completely  an 
appreciation  of  the  woman  before  him  that  another 
figure  in  the  scene,  even  so  esteemed  a  one  as 
St.  George,  might  for  the  hour  have  appealed  to 
him  vainly.  He  left  the  house  wondering  what 
the  great  man  had  meant  by  its  not  being  fair 
to  him ;  and,  still  more  than  that,  whether  he 
had  actually  stayed  away  from  the  force  of  that 
idea.  As  he  took  his  course  through  the  Sunday 
solitude  of  Manchester  Square,  swinging  his  stick 
and  with  a  good  deal  of  emotion  fermenting  in  his 
soul,  it  appeared  to  him  he  was  living  in  a  world 
strangely  magnanimous.  Miss  Fancourt  had  told 
him  it  was  possible  she  should  be  away,  and  that 
her  father  should  be,  on  the  following  Sunday, 
but  that  she  had  the  hope  of  a  visit  from  him  in 
the  other  event.  She  promised  to  let  him  know 
should  their  absence  fail,  and  then  he  might 
act  accordingly.  After  he  had  passed  into  one 
of  the  streets  that  open  from  the  Square  he  stopped, 
without  definite  intentions,  looking  sceptically 
for  a  cab.  In  a  moment  he  saw  a  hansom  roll 
through  the  place  from  the  other  side  and  come 
a  part  of  the  way  toward  him.  He  was  on  the 
point  of  hailing  the  driver  when  he  noticed  a 
"  fare  "  within  ;  then  he  waited,  seeing  the  man 
70 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

prepare  to  deposit  his  passenger  by  pulling  up  at 
one  of  the  houses.  The  house  was  apparently 
the  one  he  himself  had  just  quitted  ;  at  least  he 
drew  that  inference  as  he  recognised  Henry  St. 
George  in  the  person  who  stepped  out  of  the 
hansom.  Paul  turned  off  as  quickly  as  if  he  had 
been  caught  in  the  act  of  spying.  He  gave  up 
his  cab  —  he  preferred  to  walk  ;  he  would  go 
nowhere  else.  He  was  glad  St.  George  had  n't 
renounced  his  visit  altogether  —  that  would  have 
been  too  absurd.  Yes,  the  world  was  magnani- 
mous, and  even  he  himself  felt  so  as,  on  looking 
at  his  watch,  he  noted  but  six  o'clock,  so  that 
he  could  mentally  congratulate  his  successor  on 
having  an  hour  still  to  sit  in  Miss  Fancourt's 
drawing-room.  He  himself  might  use  that  hour 
for  another  visit,  but  by  the  time  he  reached  the 
Marble  Arch  the  idea  of  puch  a  course  had  become 
incongruous  to  him.  He  passed  beneath  that 
architectural  effort  and  walked  into  the  Park 
till  he  got  upon  the  spreading  grass.  Here  he 
continued  to  walk  ;  he  took  his  way  across  the 
elastic  turf  and  came  out  by  the  Serpentine.  He 
watched  with  a  friendly  eye  the  diversions  of  the 
London  people,  he  bent  a  glance  almost  encourag- 
ing on  the  young  ladies  paddling  their  sweet- 
hearts about  the  lake  and  the  guardsmen  tickling 
tenderly  with  their  bearskins  the  artificial  flowers 

71 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

in  the  Sunday  hats  of  their  partners.  He  pro- 
longed his  meditative  walk  ;  he  went  into  Kensing  - 
ton  Gardens,  he  sat  upon  the  penny  chairs,  he 
looked  at  the  little  sail-boats  launched  upon  the 
round  pond  and  was  glad  he  had  no  engagement 
to  dine.  He  repaired  for  this  purpose,  very  late, 
to  his  club,  where  he  found  himself  unable  to  order 
a  repast  and  told  the  waiter  to  bring  whatever 
there  was.  He  did  n't  even  observe  what  he  was 
served  with,  and  he  spent  the  evening  in  the  library 
of  the  establishment,  pretending  to  read  an  article 
in  an  American  magazine.  He  failed  to  discover 
what  it  was  about ;  it  appeared  in  a  dim  way  to 
be  about  Marian  Fancourt. 

Quite  late  in  the  week  she  wrote  to  him  that 
she  was  not  to  go  into  the  country  —  it  had  only 
just  been  settled.  Her  father,  she  added,  would 
never  settle  anything,  but  put  it  all  on  her.  She 
felt  her  responsibility  —  she  had  to  —  and  since 
she  was  forced  this  was  the  way  she  had  decided. 
She  mentioned  no  reasons,  which  gave  our  friend 
all  the  clearer  field  for  bold  conjecture  about 
them.  In  Manchester  Square  on  this  second 
Sunday  he  esteemed  his  fortune  less  good,  for  she 
had  three  or  four  other  visitors.  But  there  were 
three  or  four  compensations  ;  perhaps  the  greatest 
of  which  was  that,  learning  how  her  father  had 
after  all,  at  the  last  hour,  gone  out  of  town  alone, 
72 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

the  bold  conjecture  I  just  now  spoke  of  found 
itself  becoming  a  shade  more  bold.  And  then 
her  presence  was  her  presence,  and  the  personal 
red  room  was  there  and  was  full  of  it,  whatever 
phantoms  passed  and  vanished,  emitting  incom- 
prehensible sounds.  Lastly,  he  had  the  resource 
of  staying  till  every  one  had  come  and  gone  and  of 
believing  this  grateful  to  her,  though  she  gave  no 
particular  sign.  When  they  were  alone  together 
he  came  to  his  point.  "  But  St.  George  did  come 
—  last  Sunday.  I  saw  him  as  I  looked  back." 

"  Yes  ;  but  it  was  the  last  time." 

"  The  last  time  ?  " 

"  He  said  he  would  never  come  again." 

Paul  Overt  stared.  "  Does  he  mean  he  wishes 
to  cease  to  see  you  ?  " 

"  I  don't  know  what  he  means,"  the  girl  bravely 
smiled.  "  He  won't  at  any  rate  see  me  here." 

"  And  pray  why  not  ?  " 

"  I  have  n't  the  least  idea,"  said  Marian  Fan- 
court,  whose  visitor  found  her  more  perversely 
sublime  than  ever  yet  as  she  professed  this  clear 
helplessness. 


73 


"  OH  I  say,  I  want  you  to  stop  a  little,"  Henry 
St.  George  said  to  him  at  eleven  o'clock  the  night 
he  dined  with  the  head  of  the  profession.  The 
company  —  none  of  it  indeed  of  the  profession  — 
had  been  numerous  and  was  taking  its  leave  ; 
our  young  man,  after  bidding  good-night  to  his 
hostess,  had  put  out  his  hand  in  farewell  to  the 
master  of  the  house.  Besides  drawing  from  the 
latter  the  protest  I  have  cited  this  movement 
provoked  a  further  priceless  word  about  their 
chance  now  to  have  a  talk,  their  going  into  his 
room,  his  having  still  everything  to  say.  Paul 
Overt  was  all  delight  at  this  kindness  ;  neverthe- 
less he  mentioned  in  weak  jocose  qualification 
the  bare  fact  that  he  had  promised  to  go  to 
another  place  which  was  at  a  considerable 
distance. 

"  Well  then  you  '11  break  your  promise,  that 's 
all.  You  quite  awful  humbug  !  "  St.  George  added 
in  a  tone  that  confirmed  our  young  man's  ease. 

"  Certainly  I  '11  break  it  —  but  it  was  a  real 
promise." 
74 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  Do  you  mean  to  Miss  Fancourt  ?    You  're 
following  her  ?  "  his  friend  asked. 

He  answered  by  a  question.  "  Oh  is  she  going  ?" 
"  Base  impostor !  "  his  ironic  host  went  on. 
"  I  've  treated  you  handsomely  on  the  article  of 
that  young  lady  :  I  won't  make  another  con- 
cession. Wait  three  minutes  —  I  '11  be  with  you." 
He  gave  himself  to  his  departing  guests,  accom- 
panied the  long-trained  ladies  to  the  door.  It 
was  a  hot  night,  the  windows  were  open,  the  sound 
of  the  quick  carriages  and  of  the  linkmen's  call 
came  into  the  house.  The  affair  had  rather 
glittered  ;  a  sense  of  festal  things  was  in  the  heavy 
air  :  not  only  the  influence  of  that  particular 
entertainment,  but  the  suggestion  of  the  wide 
hurry  of  pleasure  which  in  London  on  summer 
nights  fills  so  many  of  the  happier  quarters  of 
the  complicated  town.  Gradually  Mrs.  St. 
George's  drawing-room  emptied  itself ;  Paul  was 
left  alone  with  his  hostess,  to  whom  he  explained 
the  motive  of  his  waiting.  "  Ah  yes,  some  in- 
tellectual, some  professional,  talk,"  she  leered  ; 
*'  at  this  season  does  n't  one  miss  it  ?  Poor  dear 
Henry,  I  'm  so  glad  1  "  The  young  man  looked 
out  of  the  window  a  moment,  at  the  called  hansoms 
that  lurched  up,  at  the  smooth  broughams  that 
rolled  away.  When  he  turned  round  Mrs.  St. 
George  had  disappeared  ;  her  husband's  voice  rose 

75 


THE   LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

to  him  from  below  —  he  was  laughing  and  talking, 
in  the  portico,  with  some  lady  who  awaited  her 
carriage.  Paul  had  solitary  possession,  for  some 
minutes,  of  the  warm  deserted  rooms  where  the 
covered  tinted  lamplight  was  soft,  the  seats  had 
been  pushed  about  and  the  odour  of  flowers 
lingered.  They  were  large,  they  were  pretty, 
they  contained  objects  of  value  ;  everything  in 
the  picture  told  of  a  "  good  house."  At  the  end 
of  five  minutes  a  servant  came  in  with  a  request 
from  the  Master  that  he  would  join  him  down- 
stairs ;  upon  which,  descending,  he  followed  his 
conductor  through  a  long  passage  to  an  apartment 
thrown  out,  in  the  rear  of  the  habitation,  for  the 
special  requirements,  as  he  guessed,  of  a  busy 
man  of  letters. 

St.  George  was  in  his  shirt-sleeves  in  the  middle 
of  a  large  high  room  —  a  room  without  windows, 
but  with  a  wide  skylight  at  the  top,  that  of  a  place 
of  exhibition.  It  was  furnished  as  a  library,  and 
the  serried  bookshelves  rose  to  the  ceiling,  a  surface 
of  incomparable  tone  produced  by  dimly -gilt 
"  backs "  interrupted  here  and  there  by  the 
suspension  of  old  prints  and  drawings.  At  the 
end  furthest  from  the  door  of  admission  was  a 
tall  desk,  of  great  extent,  at  which  the  person 
using  it  could  write  only  in  the  erect  posture  of  a 
clerk  in  a  counting-house  ;  and  stretched  from 
76 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

the  entrance  to  this  structure  was  a  wide  plain 
band  of  crimson  cloth,  as  straight  as  a  garden-path 
and  almost  as  long,  where,  in  his  mind's  eye, 
Paul  at  once  beheld  the  Master  pace  to  and  fro 
during  vexed  hours — hours,  that  is,  of  admirable 
composition.  The  servant  gave  him  a  coat,  an  old 
jacket  with  a  hang  of  experience,  from  a  cupboard 
in  the  wall,  retiring  afterwards  with  the  garment 
he  had  taken  off.  Paul  Overt  welcomed  the  coat ; 
it  was  a  coat  for  talk,  it  promised  confidences  — 
having  visibly  received  so  many  —  and  had  tragic 
literary  elbows.  "  Ah  we  're  practical  —  we  're 
practical !  "  St.  George  said  as  he  saw  his  visitor 
look  the  place  over.  "  Is  n't  it  a  good  big  cage 
for  going  round  and  round  ?  My  wife  invented  it 
and  she  locks  me  up  here  every  morning." 

Our  young  man  breathed  —  by  way  of  tribute 
—  with  a  certain  oppression.  "  You  don't  miss  a 
window  —  a  place  to  look  out  ?  " 

"  I  did  at  first  awfully  ;  but  her  calculation  was 
just.  It  saves  time,  it  has  saved  me  many  months 
in  these  ten  years.  Here  I  stand,  under  the  eye 
of  day  —  in  London  of  course,  very  often,  it 's 
rather  a  bleared  old  eye  —  walled  in  to  my  trade. 
I  can  't  get  away  —  so  the  room  's  a  fine  lesson 
in  concentration.  I  've  learnt  the  lesson,  I 
think  ;  look  at  that  big  bundle  of  proof  and 
acknowledge  it."  He  pointed  to  a  fat  roll  of 

77 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

papers,  on  one  of  the  tables,  which  had  not  been 
undone. 

"  Are  you  bringing  out  another ?  "  Paul 

asked  in  a  tone  the  fond  deficiencies  of  which  he 
did  n't  recognise  till  his  companion  burst  out 
laughing,  and  indeed  scarce  even  then. 

"  You  humbug,  you  humbug  !  "  —  St.  George 
appeared  to  enjoy  caressing  him,  as  it  were,  with 
that  opprobrium.  "  Don't  I  know  what  you 
think  of  them  ?  "  he  asked,  standing  there  with 
his  hands  in  his  pockets  and  with  a  new  kind 
of  smile.  It  was  as  if  he  were  going  to  let  his 
young  votary  see  him  all  now. 

"  Upon  my  word  in  that  case  you  know  more 
than  I  do  ! "  the  latter  ventured  to  respond, 
revealing  a  part  of  the  torment  of  being  able 
neither  clearly  to  esteem  nor  distinctly  to  renounce 
him. 

"  My  dear  fellow,"  said  the  more  and  more 
interesting  Master,  "  don't  imagine  I  talk  about 
my  books  specifically ;  they  're  not  a  decent 
subject  —  il  ne  manquerait  plus  que  ca  !  I  'm  not 
so  bad  as  you  may  apprehend  !  About  myself, 
yes,  a  little,  if  you  like  ;  though  it  was  n't  for  that 
I  brought  you  down  here.  I  want  to  ask  you 
something  —  very  much  indeed  ;  I  value  this 
chance.  Therefore  sit  down.  We  're  practical, 
but  there  is  a  sofa,  you  see  —  for  she  does  humour 
78 


THE    LESSON   OF   THE    MASTER 

my  poor  bones  so  far.  Like  all  really  great  ad- 
ministrators and  disciplinarians  she  knows  when 
wisely  to  relax.'"'  Paul  sank  into  the  corner  of 
a  deep  leathern  couch,  but  his  friend  remained 
standing  and  explanatory.  "  If  you  don't  mind, 
in  this  room,  this  is  my  habit.  From  the  door  to 
the  desk  and  from  the  desk  to  the  door.  That 
shakes  up  my  imagination  gently  ;  and  don't 
you  see  what  a  good  thing  it  is  that  there  's  no 
window  for  her  to  fly  out  of  ?  The  eternal  standing 
as  I  write  (I  stop  at  that  bureau  and  put  it  down, 
when  anything  comes,  and  so  we  go  on)  was  rather 
wearisome  at  first,  but  we  adopted  it  with  an  eye 
to  the  long  run  ;  you  're  in  better  order  —  if  your 
legs  don't  break  down  !  —  and  you  can  keep  it 
up  for  more  years.  Oh  we  're  practical  —  we  're 
practical !  "  St.  George  repeated,  going  to  the 
table  and  taking  up  all  mechanically  the  bundle  of 
proofs.  But,  pulling  off  the  wrapper,  he  had  a 
change  of  attention  that  appealed  afresh  to  our 
hero.  He  lost  himself  a  moment,  examining  the 
sheets  of  his  new  book,  while  the  younger  man's 
eyes  wandered  over  the  room  again. 

"  Lord,  what  good  things  I  should  do  if  I  had 
such  a  charming  place  as  this  to  do  them  in  !  " 
Paul  reflected.  The  outer  world,  the  world  of 
accident  and  ugliness,  was  so  successfully  ex- 
cluded, and  within  the  rich  protecting  square, 

79 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

beneath  the  patronising  sky,  the  dream-figures, 
the  summoned  company,  could  hold  their  partic- 
ular revel.  It  was  a  fond  prevision  of  O vert's 
rather  than  an  observation  on  actual  data,  for 
which  occasions  had  been  too  few,  that  the  Master 
thus  more  closely  viewed  would  have  the  quality, 
the  charming  gift,  of  flashing  out,  all  surprisingly, 
in  personal  intercourse  and  at  moments  of  sus- 
pended or  perhaps  even  of  diminished  expectation. 
A  happy  relation  with  him  would  be  a  thing  pro- 
ceeding by  jumps,  not  by  traceable  stages. 

"  Do  you  read  them  —  really  ?  "  he  asked, 
laying  down  the  proofs  on  Paul's  enquiring  of  him 
how  soon  the  work  would  be  published.  And 
when  the  young  man  answered  "  Oh  yes,  always," 
he  was  moved  to  mirth  again  by  something  he 
caught  in  his  manner  of  saying  that.  "  You  go 
to  see  your  grandmother  on  her  birthday  —  and 
very  proper  it  is,  especially  as  she  won't  last  for 
ever.  She  has  lost  every  faculty  and  every  sense  ; 
she  neither  sees,  nor  hears,  nor  speaks  ;  but  all 
customary  pieties  and  kindly  habits  are  respect- 
able. Only  you  're  strong  if  you  do  read  'em  ! 
/  could  n't,  my  dear  fellow.  You  are  strong,  I 
know  ;  and  that 's  just  a  part  of  what  I  wanted 
to  say  to  you.  You  're  very  strong  indeed. 
I  've  been  going  into  your  other  things  —  they  Ve 
interested  me  immensely.  Some  one  ought  to 
80 


THE   LESSON   OF   THE   MASTER 

have  told  me  about  them  before  —  some  one  I 
could  believe.  But  whom  can  one  believe  ? 
You  're  wonderfully  on  the  right  road  —  it 's 
awfully  decent  work.  Now  do  you  mean  to  keep 
it  up  ?  —  that 's  what  I  want  to  ask  you." 

"  Do  I  mean  to  do  others  ?  "  Paul  asked,  looking 
up  from  his  sofa  at  his  erect  inquisitor  and  feeling 
partly  like  a  happy  little  boy  when  the  school- 
master is  gay,  and  partly  like  some  pilgrim  of 
old  who  might  have  consulted  a  world-famous 
oracle.  St.  George's  own  performance  had  been 
infirm,  but  as  an  adviser  he  would  be  infallible. 

"  Others  —  others  ?  Ah  the  number  won  't 
matter ;  one  other  would  do,  if  it  were  really  a 
further  step  —  a  throb  of  the  same  effort.  What 
I  mean  is  have  you  it  in  your  heart  to  go  in  for 
some  sort  of  decent  perfection  ?  " 

"  Ah  decency,  ah  perfection — !  "  the  young 
man  sincerely  sighed.  "  I  talked  of  them  the 
other  Sunday  with  Miss  Fancourt." 

It  produced  on  the  Master's  part  a  laugh  of  odd 
acrimony.  "  Yes,  they  '11 4  talk  '  of  them  as  much 
as  you  like  !  But  they  '11  do  little  to  help  one 
to  them.  There  's  no  obligation  of  course  ;  only 
you  strike  me  as  capable,"  he  went  on.  **  You 
must  have  thought  it  all  over.  I  can  't  believe 
you  're  without  a  plan.  That 's  the  sensation 
you  give  me,  and  it 's  so  rare  that  it  really  stirs 
F  81 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

one  up  —  it  makes  you  remarkable.  If  you 
have  n't  a  plan,  if  you  don't  mean  to  keep  it  up, 
surely  you  're  within  your  rights  ;  it 's  nobody's 
business,  no  one  can  force  you,  and  not  more  than 
two  or  three  people  will  notice  you  don't  go 
straight.  The  others  —  all  the  rest,  every  blest 
soul  in  England,  will  think  you  do  —  will  think 
you  are  keeping  it  up  :  upon  my  honour  they  will  I 
I  shall  be  one  of  the  two  or  three  who  know  better. 
Now  the  qestion  is  whether  you  can  do  it  for  two 
or  three.  Is  that  the  stuff  you  're  made  of  ?  " 

It  locked  his  guest  a  minute  as  in  closed  throb- 
bing arms.  "  I  could  do  it  for  one,  if  you  were 
the  one." 

"  Don't  say  that ;  I  don't  deserve  it ;  it 
scorches  me,"  he  protested  with  eyes  suddenly 
grave  and  glowing.  "  The  '  one '  is  of  course 
one's  self,  one's  conscience,  one's  idea,  the  singleness 
of  one's  aim.  I  think  of  that  pure  spirit  as  a  man 
thinks  of  a  woman  he  has  in  some  detested  hour 
of  his  youth  loved  and  forsaken.  She  haunts  him 
with  reproachful  eyes,  she  lives  for  ever  before 
him.  As  an  artist,  you  know,  I  've  married  for 
money."  Paul  stared  and  even  blushed  a  little, 
confounded  by  this  avowal ;  whereupon  his  host, 
observing  the  expression  of  his  face,  dropped  a 
quick  laugh  and  pursued  :  "  You  don't  follow  my 
figure.  I  'm  not  speaking  of  my  dear  wife,  who 
82 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

had  a  small  fortune  —  which,  however,  was  not 
my  bribe.  I  fell  in  love  with  her,  as  many  other 
people  have  done.  I  refer  to  the  mercenary  muse 
whom  I  led  to  the  altar  of  literature.  Don't, 
my  boy,  put  your  nose  into  that  yoke.  The  awful 
jade  will  lead  you  a  life  !  " 

Our  hero  watched  him,  wondering  and  deeply 
touched.  "  Have  n't  you  been  happy  !  " 

"  Happy  ?     It 's  a  kind  of  hell." 

"  There  are  things  I  should  like  to  ask  you," 
Paul  said  after  a  pause. 

"  Ask  me  anything  in  all  the  world.  I  'd  turn 
myself  inside  out  to  save  you." 

44  To  4  save  '  me  ?  "  he  quavered. 

44  To  make  you  stick  to  it  —  to  make  you  see  it 
through.  As  I  said  to  you  the  other  night  at 
Summersoft,  let  my  example  be  vivid  to  you." 

"  Why  your  books  are  not  so  bad  as  that," 
said  Paul,  fairly  laughing  and  feeling  that  if  ever 
a  fellow  had  breathed  the  air  of  art ! 

44  So  bad  as  what  ?  " 

44  Your  talent 's  so  great  that  it 's  in  everything 
you  do,  in  what 's  less  good  as  well  as  in  what 's 
best.  You  Ve  some  forty  volumes  to  show  for 
it  —  forty  volumes  of  wonderful  life,  of  rare 
observation,  of  magnificent  ability." 

44 1  'in  very  clever,  of  course  I  know  that " 
— but  it  was  a  thing,  in  fine,  this  author  made 

83 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

nothing  of.  "  Lord,  what  rot  they  'd  all  be  if  I 
had  n't  been  !  I  'm  a  successful  charlatan,"  he 
went  on  —  "I  've  been  able  to  pass  off  my 
system.  But  do  you  know  what  it  is  ?  It  's 
cartonpierre." 

"  Carton-pierre  ?  "    Paul  was  struck,  and  gaped. 

"  Lincrusta- Walton  !  " 

"  Ah  don't  say  such  things  —  you  make  me 
bleed  !  "  the  younger  man  protested.  "  I  see  you 
in  a  beautiful  fortunate  home,  living  in  comfort 
and  honour." 

"  Do  you  call  it  honour  ?  "  —  his  host  took  him 
up  with  an  intonation  that  often  comes  back  to 
him.  "  That 's  what  I  want  you  to  go  in  for. 
I  mean  the  real  thing.  This  is  brummagem." 

"  Brummagem  ?  "  Paul  ejaculated  while  his 
eyes  wandered,  by  a  movement  natural  at  the 
moment,  over  the  luxurious  room. 

"  Ah  they  make  it  so  well  to-day  —  it 's  wonder- 
fully deceptive  !  " 

Our  friend  thrilled  with  the  interest  and  perhaps 
even  more  with  the  pity  of  it.  Yet  he  was  n't 
afraid  to  seem  to  patronise  when  he  could  still 
so  far  envy.  "Is  it  deceptive  that  I  find  you 
living  with  every  appearance  of  domestic  felicity  — 
blest  with  a  devoted,  accomplished  wife,  with 
children  whose  acquaintance  I  have  n't  yet  had 
the  pleasure  of  making,  but  who  must  be  de- 
84 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

lightful  young  people,  from  what  I  know  of  their 
parents  ?  " 

St.  George  smiled  as  for  the  candour  of  his 
question.  "  It 's  all  excellent,  my  dear  fellow  — 
heaven  forbid  I  should  deny  it.  I've  made  a 
great  deal  of  money  ;  my  wife  has  known  how  to 
take  care  of  it,  to  use  it  without  wasting  it,  to  put 
a  good  bit  of  it  by,  to  make  it  fructify.  I  've 
got  a  loaf  on  the  shelf ;  I  Ve  got  everything  in 
fact  but  the  great  thing." 

"  The  great  thing  ?  "  Paul  kept  echoing. 

"  The  sense  of  having  done  the  best  —  the  sense 
which  is  the  real  life  of  the  artist  and  the  absence 
of  which  is  his  death,  of  having  drawn  from  his 
intellectual  instrument  the  finest  music  that  nature 
had  hidden  in  it,  of  having  played  it  as  it  should 
be  played.  He  either  does  that  or  he  does  n't  — 
and  if  he  doesn't  he  isn't  worth  speaking  of. 
Therefore,  precisely,  those  who  really  know 
don't  speak  of  him.  He  may  still  hear  a  great 
chatter,  but  what  he  hears  most  is  the  incor- 
ruptible silence  of  Fame.  I  've  squared  her,  you 
may  say,  for  my  little  hour  —  but  what 's  my 
little  hour  ?  Don 't  imagine  for  a  moment," 
the  Master  pursued,  "  that  I  'm  such  a  cad  as  to 
have  brought  you  down  here  to  abuse  or  to  com- 
plain of  my  wife  to  you.  She  's  a  woman  of  dis- 
tinguished qualities,  to  whom  my  obligations  are 

85 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

immense  ;  so  that,  if  you  please,  we  '11  say  nothing 
about  her.  My  boys  —  my  children  are  all  boys 
—  are  straight  and  strong,  thank  God,  and  have 
no  poverty  of  growth  about  them,  no  penury  of 
needs.  I  receive  periodically  the  most  satisfactory 
attestation  from  Harrow,  from  Oxford,  from 
Sandhurst  —  oh  we  've  done  the  best  for  them  !  — 
of  their  eminence  as  living  thriving  consuming 
organisms." 

"  It  must  be  delightful  to  feel  that  the  son  of 
one's  loins  is  at  Sandhurst,"  Paul  remarked 
enthusiastically. 

"  It  is  —  it 's  charming.    Oh  I  'm  a  patriot  !  " 

The  young  man  then  could  but  have  the  greater 
tribute  of  questions  to  pay.  "  Then  what  did 
you  mean  —  the  other  night  at  Summersoft  — 
by  saying  that  children  are  a  curse  ?  " 

"  My  dear  youth,  on  what  basis  are  we  talking  ?  " 
and  St.  George  dropped  upon  the  sofa  at  a  short 
distance  from  him.  Sitting  a  little  sideways  he 
leaned  back  against  the  opposite  arm  with  his 
hands  raised  and  interlocked  behind  his  head. 
"  On  the  supposition  that  a  certain  perfection 's 
possible  and  even  desirable  —  is  n't  it  so  ?  Well, 
all  I  say  is  that  one's  children  interfere  with 
perfection.  One's  wife  interferes.  Marriage  in- 
terferes." 

"  You  think  then  the  artist  should  n't  marry  ?  " 
86 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

"  He  does  so  at  his  peril  —  he  does  so  at  his 
cost." 

'*  Not  even  when  his  wife  's  in  sympathy  with 
his  work  ?  " 

"  She  never  is  —  she  can't  be  !  Women  have  n't 
a  conception  of  such  things." 

"  Surely  they  on  occasion  work  themselves," 
Paul  objected. 

"  Yes,  very  badly  indeed.  Oh  of  course,  often, 
they  think  they  understand,  they  think  they 
sympathise.  Then  it  is  they  're  most  dangerous. 
Their  idea  is  that  you  shall  do  a  great  lot  and  get 
a  great  lot  of  money.  Their  great  nobleness  and 
virtue,  their  exemplary  conscientiousness  as 
British  females,  is  in  keeping  you  up  to  that. 
My  wife  makes  all  my  bargains  with  my  publishers 
for  me,  and  has  done  so  for  twenty  years.  She 
does  it  consummately  well  —  that 's  why  I  'm 
really  pretty  well  off.  Are  n't  you  the  father  of 
their  innocent  babes,  and  will  you  withhold  from 
them  their  natural  sustenance  ?  You  asked  me  the 
other  night  if  they  're  not  an  immense  incentive. 
Of  course  they  are  —  there  's  no  doubt  of  that !  " 

Paul  turned  it  over  :  it  took,  from  eyes  he  had 
never  felt  open  so  wide,  so  much  looking  at.  "  For 
myself  I  've  an  idea  I  need  incentives." 

"  Ah  well  then,  n'en  parlons  plus  !  "  his  com- 
panion handsomely  smiled. 

87 


THE   LESSON   OF   THE   MASTER 

"  You  are  an  incentive,  I  maintain,"  the  young 
man  went  on.  "  You  don't  affect  me  in  the  way 
you  'd  apparently  like  to.  Your  great  success  is 
what  I  see  —  the  pomp  of  Ennismore  Gardens  !  " 

44  Success  ?  "  —  St.  George's  eyes  had  a  cold 
fine  light.  "  Do  you  call  it  success  to  be  spoken 
of  as  you  'd  speak  of  me  if  you  were  sitting  here 
with  another  artist  —  a  young  man  intelligent  and 
sincere  like  yourself?  Do  you  call  it  success  to 
make  you  blush  —  as  you  would  blush  !  —  if  some 
foreign  critic  (some  fellow,  of  course  I  mean,  who 
should  know  what  he  was  talking  about  and 
should  have  shown  you  he  did,  as  foreign  critics 
like  to  show  it)  were  to  say  to  you  :  4  He  's  the 
one,  in  this  country,  whom  they  consider  the  most 
perfect,  is  n't  he  ?  '  Is  it  success  to  be  the  occasion 
of  a  young  Englishman's  having  to  stammer  as 
you  would  have  to  stammer  at  such  a  moment 
for  old  England  ?  No,  no ;  success  is  to  have  made 
people  wriggle  to  another  tune.  Do  try  it ! " 

Paul  continued  all  gravely  to  glow.  "  Try 
what  ?  " 

44  Try  to  do  some  really  good  work." 

44  Oh  I  want  to,  heaven  knows  !  " 

44  Well,  you  can  't  do  it  without  sacrifices  — 
don't   believe  that    for  a  moment,"  the  Master 
said.     44 1  've  made  none.     I  've  had  everything, 
In  other  words  I  've  missed  everything." 
88 


THE   LESSON   OF   THE   MASTER 

"You  Ve  had  the  full  rich  masculine  human 
general  life,  with  all  the  responsibilities  and  duties 
and  burdens  and  sorrows  and  joys — all  thedomestic 
and  social  initiations  and  complications.  They 
must  be  immensely  suggestive,  immensely  amus- 
ing," Paul  anxiously  submitted. 

"  Amusing  ?  " 

"  For  a  strong  man  —  yes." 

"  They  Ve  given  me  subjects  without  number, 
if  that 's  what  you  mean  ;  but  they  Ve  taken 
away  at  the  same  time  the  power  to  use  them. 
I  Ve  touched  a  thousand  things,  but  which  one 
of  them  have  I  turned  into  gold  ?  The  artist 
has  to  do  only  with  that  — he  knows  nothing  of 
any  baser  metal.  I  Ve  led  the  life  of  the  world, 
with  my  wife  and  my  progeny  ;  the  clumsy  con- 
ventional expensive  materialised  vulgarised 
brutalised  life  of  London.  We  Ve  got  everything 
handsome,  even  a  carriage  —  we  're  perfect 
Philistines  and  prosperous  hospitable  eminent 
people.  But,  my  dear  fellow,  don't  try  to  stultify 
yourself  and  pretend  you  don't  know  what  we 
have  n't  got.  It 's  bigger  than  all  the  rest.  Be- 
tween artists  —  come  !  "  the  Master  wound  up. 
"  You  know  as  well  as  you  sit  there  that  you  'd 
put  a  pistol-ball  into  your  brain  if  you  had  written 
my  books  !  " 

It  struck  his  listener  that  the  tremendous  talk 

89 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

promised  by  him  at  Summersoft  had  indeed  come 
off,  and  with  a  promptitude,  a  fulness,  with  which 
the  latter's  young  imagination  had  scarcely 
reckoned.  His  impression  fairly  shook  him  and 
he  throbbed  with  the  excitement  of  such  deep 
soundings  and  such  strange  confidences.  He 
throbbed  indeed  with  the  conflict  of  his  feelings  — 
bewilderment  and  recognition  and  alarm,  enjoy- 
ment and  protest  and  assent,  all  commingled  with 
tenderness  (and  a  kind  of  shame  in  the  participa- 
tion) for  the  sores  and  bruises  exhibited  by  so 
fine  a  creature,  and  with  a  sense  of  the  tragic 
secret  nursed  under  his  trappings.  The  idea  of 
his,  Paul  Overt's,  becoming  the  occasion  of  such 
an  act  of  humility  made  him  flush  and  pant,  at 
the  same  time  that  his  consciousness  was  in  certain 
directions  too  much  alive  not  to  swallow  —  and 
not  intensely  to  taste  —  every  offered  spoonful 
of  the  revelation.  It  had  been  his  odd  fortune 
to  blow  upon  the  deep  waters,  to  make  them  surge 
and  break  in  waves  of  strange  eloquence.  But 
how  could  n't  he  give  out  a  passionate  contra- 
diction of  his  host's  last  extravagance,  how 
could  n't  he  enumerate  to  him  the  parts  of  his 
work  he  loved,  the  splendid  things  he  had  found 
in  it,  beyond  the  compass  of  any  other  writer  of 
the  day  ?  St.  George  listened  a  while,  courteously  ; 
then  he  said,  laying  his  hand  on  his  visitor's  : 
90 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

44  That 's  all  very  well ;  and  if  your  idea  's  to  do 
nothing  better  there  's  no  reason  you  should  n't 
have  as  many  good  things  as  I  —  as  many  human 
and  material  appendages,  as  many  sons  or 
daughters,  a  wife  with  as  many  gowns,  a  house 
with  as  many  servants,  a  stable  with  as  many 
horses,  a  heart  with  as  many  aches."  The 
Master  got  up  when  he  had  spoken  thus  —  he 
stood  a  moment  —  near  the  sofa  looking  down 
on  his  agitated  pupil.  "  Are  you  possessed  of 
any  property  ?  "  it  occurred  to  him  to  ask. 

44  None  to  speak  of." 

44  Oh  well  then  there 's  no  reason  why  you 
shouldn't  make  a  goodish  income  —  if  you  set 
about  it  the  right  way.  Study  me  for  that  — 
study  me  well.  You  may  really  have  horses." 

Paul  sat  there  some  minutes  without  speaking. 
He  looked  straight  before  him  —  he  turned  over 
many  things.  His  friend  had  wandered  away, 
taking  up  a  parcel  of  letters  from  the  table  where 
the  roll  of  proofs  had  lain.  44  What  was  the  book 
Mrs.  St.  George  made  you  burn  —  the  one  she 
did  n't  like  ?  "  our  young  man  brought  out. 

44  The  book  she  made  me  burn  —  how  did  you 
know  that  ?  "  The  Master  looked  up  from  his 
letters  quite  without  the  facial  convulsion  the 
pupil  had  feared. 

"  I  heard  her  speak  of  it  at  Summersoft." 

91 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  Ah  yes  —  she  's  proud  of  it.  I  don't  know  — 
it  was  rather  good." 

"  What  was  it  about  ?  " 

"  Let  me  see."  And  he  seemed  to  make  an 
effort  to  remember.  "Oh  yes  —  it  was  about 
myself."  Paul  gave  an  irrepressible  groan  for  the 
disappearance  of  such  a  production,  and  the  elder 
man  went  on  :  "  Oh  but  you  should  write  it  — 
you  should  do  me."  And  he  pulled  up  —  from 
the  restless  motion  that  had  come  upon  him  ;  his 
fine  smile  a  generous  glare.  "  There  's  a  subject, 
my  boy  :  no  end  of  stuff  in  it !  " 

Again  Paul  was  silent,  but  it  was  all  tormenting. 
"  Are  there  no  women  who  really  understand  — 
who  can  take  part  in  a  sacrifice  ?  " 

"  How  can  they  take  part  ?  They  themselves 
are  the  sacrifice.  They  're  the  idol  and  the  altar 
and  the  flame." 

"  Is  n't  there  even  one  who  sees  further  ?  " 
Paul  continued. 

For  a  moment  St.  George  made  no  answer  ; 
after  which,  having  torn  up  his  letters,  he  came 
back  to  the  point  all  ironic.  "  Of  course  I  know 
the  one  you  mean.  But  not  even  Miss  Fancourt." 

"  I  thought  you  admired  her  so  much." 

"  It 's  impossible  to  admire  her  more.  Are  you 
in  love  with  her  ?  "  St.  George  asked. 

"  Yes,"  Paul  Overt  presently  said. 
92 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  Well  then  give  it  up." 

Paul  stared.     "  Give  up  my  4  love  '  ?  " 

"  Bless  me,  no.  Your  idea."  And  then  as  our 
hero  but  still  gazed  :  "  The  one  you  talked  with 
her  about.  The  idea  of  a  decent  perfection." 

"  She  'd  help  it  —  she  'd  help  it !  "  the  young 
man  cried. 

"  For  about  a  year  —  the  first  year,  yes.  After 
that  she  'd  be  as  a  millstone  round  its  neck." 

Paul  frankly  wondered.  "  Why  she  has  a 
passion  for  the  real  thing,  for  good  work  —  for 
everything  you  and  I  care  for  most." 

"  4  You  and  I '  is  charming,  my  dear  fellow  !  " 
his  friend  laughed.  "  She  has  it  indeed,  but  she  'd 
have  a  still  greater  passion  for  her  children  — 
and  very  proper  too.  She  'd  insist  on  everything's 
being  made  comfortable,  advantageous,  propitious 
for  them.  That  is  n't  the  artist's  business." 

"  The  artist  —  the  artist !  Is  n't  he  a  man  all 
the  same  ?  " 

St.  George  had  a  grand  grimace.  "  I  mostly 
think  not.  You  know  as  well  as  I  what  he  has 
to  do  :  the  concentration,  the  finish,  the  inde- 
pendence he  must  strive  for  from  the  moment 
he  begins  to  wish  his  work  really  decent.  Ah 
my  young  friend,  his  relation  to  women,  and 
especially  to  the  one  he  's  most  intimately  con- 
cerned with,  is  at  the  mercy  of  the  damning  fact 

93 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

that  whereas  he  can  in  the  nature  of  things  have 
but  one  standard,  they  have  about  fifty.  That 's 
what  makes  them  so  superior,"  St.  George  amus- 
ingly added.  "  Fancy  an  artist  with  a  change 
of  standards  as  you  'd  have  a  change  of  shirts  or 
of  dinner-plates.  To  do  it  —  to  do  it  and  make 
it  divine —is  the  only  thing  he  has  to  think  about. 
4  Is  it  done  or  not  ?  '  is  his  only  question.  Not 
4  Is  it  done  as  well  as  a  proper  solicitude  for  my 
dear  little  family  will  allow  ? '  He  has  nothing 
to  do  with  the  relative  —  he  has  only  to  do  with 
the  absolute  ;  and  a  dear  little  family  may  repre- 
sent a  dozen  relatives." 

44  Then  you  don't  allow  him  the  common 
passions  and  affections  of  men  ?  "  Paul  asked. 

44  Has  n't  he  a  passion,  an  affection,  which  in- 
cludes all  the  rest  ?  Besides,  let  him  have  all  the 
passions  he  likes  —  if  he  only  keeps  his  independ- 
ence. He  must  be  able  to  be  poor." 

Paul  slowly  got  up.  44  Why  then  did  you  advise 
me  to  make  up  to  her  ?  " 

St.  George  laid  his  hand  on  his  shoulder.  44  Be- 
cause she  'd  make  a  splendid  wife  !  And  I  had  n't 
read  you  then." 

The  young  man  had  a  strained  smile.  44 1  wish 
you  had  left  me  alone  I  " 

44 1  did  n't  know  that  that  was  n't  good  enough 
for  you,"  his  host  returned. 
94 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

44  What  a  false  position,  what  a  condemnation 
of  the  artist,  that  he  's  a  mere  disfranchised  monk 
and  can  produce  his  effect  only  by  giving  up  per- 
sonal happiness.  What  an  arraignment  of  art !  " 
Paul  went  on  with  a  trembling  voice. 

44  Ah  you  don't  imagine  by  chance  that  I  'm 
defending  art  ?  4  Arraignment '  —  I  should  think  so ! 
Happy  the  societies  in  which  it  has  n't  made  its 
appearance,  for  from  the  moment  it  comes  they 
have  a  consuming  ache,  they  have  an  incurable 
corruption,  in  their  breast.  Most  assuredly  is 
the  artist  in  a  false  position  !  But  I  thought  we 
were  taking  him  for  granted.  Pardon  me," 
St.  George  continued  :  44 1  Ginistrella '  made 
me!" 

Paul  stood  looking  at  the  floor  —  one  o'clock 
struck,  in  the  stillness,  from  a  neighbouring 
church-tower.  "  Do  you  think  she  'd  ever  look 
at  me  ?  "  he  put  to  his  friend  at  last. 

44  Miss  Fancourt — as  a  suitor  ?  Why  should  n't 
I  think  it  ?  That 's  why  I  've  tried  to  favour  you 
—  I  've  had  a  little  chance  or  two  of  bettering 
your  opportunity." 

44  Forgive  my  asking  you,  but  do  you  mean  by 
keeping  away  yourself  ?  "  Paul  said  with  a  blush. 

44 1  'm  an  old  idiot  —  my  place  is  n't  there," 
St.  George  stated  gravely. 

44 1  'm  nothing  yet,  I  've  no  fortune  ;  and 

95 


THE   LESSON   OF   THE   MASTER 

there  must  be  so  many  others,"  his  companion 
pursued. 

The  Master  took  this  considerably  in,  but  made 
little  of  it.  "  You  're  a  gentleman  and  a  man  of 
genius.  I  think  you  might  do  something." 

"  But  if  I  must  give  that  up  —  the  genius  ?  " 

"  Lots  of  people,  you  know,  think  I  've  kept 
mine,"  St.  George  wonderfully  grinned. 

"  You  've  a  genius  for  mystification  !  "  Paul 
declared  ;  but  grasping  his  hand  gratefully  in 
attenuation  of  this  judgement. 

44  Poor  dear  boy,  I  do  worry  you  !  But  try,  try, 
all  the  same.  I  think  your  chances  are  good 
and  you  '11  win  a  great  prize." 

Paul  held  fast  the  other's  hand  a  minute  ;  he 
looked  into  the  strange  deep  face.  44  No,  I  am  an 
artist  —  I  can  't  help  it !  " 

44  Ah  show  it  then  !  "  St.  George  pleadingly 
broke  out.  "  Let  me  see  before  I  die  the  thing  I 
most  want,  the  thing  I  yearn  for  :  a  life  in  which 
the  passion  —  ours  —  is  really  intense.  If  you 
can  be  rare  don't  fail  of  it !  Think  what  it  is  — 
how  it  counts  —  how  it  lives  !  " 

They  had  moved  to  the  door  and  he  had  closed 
both  his  hands  over  his  companion's.  Here  they 
paused  again  and  our  hero  breathed  deep.  4'  I 
want  to  live  !  " 

44  In  what  sense  ?  " 
96 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

"  In  the  greatest." 

44  Well  then  stick  to  it  —  see  it  through." 
"  With  your  sympathy  —  your  help  ?  " 
"  Count  on  that  —  you  '11  be  a  great  figure  to 
me.     Count    on    my    highest    appreciation,    my 
devotion.     You  '11  give  me  satisfaction  —  if  that 
has  any  weight  with  you."    After  which,  as  Paul 
appeared  still  to  waver,  his  host  added  :  "  Do  you 
remember  what  you  said  to  me  at  Summersoft  ?  " 
"  Something  infatuated,  no  doubt !  " 
44  4  I'll  do  anything  in  the  world  you  tell  me.' 
You  said  that." 

44  And  you  hold  me  to  it  ?  " 
44  Ah  what  am  I  ?  "    the  Master  expressively 
sighed. 

44  Lord,   what   things   I   shall   have   to   do ! " 
Paul  almost  moaned  as  he  departed. 


97 


VI 


"  IT  goes  on  too  much  abroad  —  hang  abroad  !  " 
These  or  something  like  them  had  been  the  Master's 
remarkable  words  in  relation  to  the  action  of 
"  Ginistrella  "  ;  and  yet,  though  they  had  made 
a  sharp  impression  on  the  author  of  that  work,  like 
almost  all  spoken  words  from  the  same  source,  he 
a  week  after  the  conversation  I  have  noted  left 
England  for  a  long  absence  and  full  of  brave  inten- 
tions. It  is  not  a  perversion  of  the  truth  to  pronounce 
that  encounter  the  direct  cause  of  his  departure. 
If  the  oral  utterance  of  the  eminent  writer  had  the 
privilege  of  moving  him  deeply  it  was  especially 
on  his  turning  it  over  at  leisure,  hours  and  days 
later,  that  it  appeared  to  yield  him  its  full  meaning 
and  exhibit  its  extreme  importance.  He  spent 
the  summer  in  Switzerland  and,  having  in  Septem- 
ber begun  a  new  task,  determined  not  to  cross  the 
Alps  till  he  should  have  made  a  good  start.  To 
this  end  he  returned  to  a  quiet  corner  he  knew  well, 
on  the  edge  of  the  Lake  of  Geneva  and  within 
sight  of  the  towers  of  Chillon  :  a  region  and  a 
view  for  which  he  had  an  affection  that  sprang 
98 


THE   LESSON   OF   THE   MASTER 

from  old  associations  and  was  capable  of  mysterious 
revivals  and  refreshments.  Here  he  lingered 
late,  till  the  snow  was  on  the  nearer  hills,  almost 
down  to  the  limit  to  which  he  could  climb  when 
his  stint,  on  the  shortening  afternoons,  was 
performed.  The  autumn  was  fine,  the  lake  was 
blue  and  his  book  took  form  and  direction.  These 
felicities,  for  the  time,  embroidered  his  life,  which 
he  suffered  to  cover  him  with  its  mantle.  At  the 
end  of  six  weeks  he  felt  he  had  learnt  St.  George's 
lesson  by  heart,  had  tested  and  proved  its  doctrine. 
Nevertheless  he  did  a  very  inconsistent  thing  : 
before  crossing  the  Alps  he  wrote  to  Marian 
Fancourt.  He  was  aware  of  the  perversity  of  this 
act,  and  it  was  only  as  a  luxury,  an  amusement, 
the  reward  of  a  strenuous  autumn,  that  he  justified 
it.  She  had  asked  of  him  no  such  favour  when, 
shortly  before  he  left  London,  three  days  after 
their  dinner  in  Ennismore  Gardens,  he  went  to 
take  leave  of  her.  It  was  true  she  had  had  no 
ground  —  he  had  n't  named  his  intention  of 
absence.  He  had  kept  his  counsel  for  want  of  due 
assurance :  it  was  that  particular  visit  that  was, 
the  next  thing,  to  settle  the  matter.  He  had 
paid  the  visit  to  see  how  much  he  really  cared 
for  her,  and  quick  departure,  without  so  much 
as  an  explicit  farewell,  was  the  sequel  to  this 
enquiry,  the  answer  to  which  had  created  within 

99 


THE    LESSON   OF   THE    MASTER 

him  a  deep  yearning.  When  he  wrote  her  from 
Clarens  he  noted  that  he  owed  her  an  explanation 
(more  than  three  months  after  !)  for  not  having 
told  her  what  he  was  doing. 

She  replied  now  briefly  but  promptly,  and  gave 
him  a  striking  piece  of  news  :  that  of  the  death, 
a  week  before,  of  Mrs.  St.  George.  This  exemplary 
woman  had  succumbed,  in  the  country,  to  a  violent 
attack  of  inflammation  of  the  lungs  —  he  would 
remember  that  for  a  long  time  she  had  been 
delicate.  Miss  Fancourt  added  that  she  believed 
her  husband  overwhelmed  by  the  blow ;  he 
would  miss  her  too  terribly  —  she  had  been 
everything  in  life  to  him.  Paul  Overt,  on  this, 
immediately  wrote  to  St.  George.  He  would 
from  the  day  of  their  parting  have  been  glad  to 
remain  in  communication  with  him,  but  had 
hitherto  lacked  the  right  excuse  for  troubling 
so  busy  a  man.  Their  long  nocturnal  talk  came 
back  to  him  in  every  detail,  but  this  was  no  bar 
to  an  expression  of  proper  sympathy  with  the  head 
of  the  profession,  for  had  n't  that  very  talk  made 
it  clear  that  the  late  accomplished  lady  was  the 
influence  that  ruled  his  life?  What  catastrophe 
could  be  more  cruel  than  the  extinction  of  such 
an  influence  ?  This  was  to  be  exactly  the  tone 
taken  by  St.  George  in  answering  his  young 
friend  upwards  of  a  month  later.  He  made  no 
100 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

allusion  of  course  to  their  important  discussion. 
He  spoke  of  his  wife  as  frankly  and  generously 
as  if  he  had  quite  forgotten  that  occasion,  and 
the  feeling  of  deep  bereavement  was  visible  in  his 
words.  "  She  took  everything  off  my  hands  — 
off  my  mind.  She  carried  on  our  life  with  the 
greatest  art,  the  rarest  devotion,  and  I  was  free, 
as  few  men  can  have  been,  to  drive  my  pen,  to 
shut  myself  up  with  my  trade.  This  was  a  rare 
service  —  the  highest  she  could  have  rendered  me. 
Would  I  could  have  acknowledged  it  more  fitly  !  " 
A  certain  bewilderment,  for  our  hero,  disengaged 
itself  from  these  remarks :  they  struck  him  as  a 
contradiction,  a  retractation,  strange  on  the  part 
of  a  man  who  had  n't  the  excuse  of  witlessness. 
He  had  certainly  not  expected  his  correspondent 
to  rejoice  in  the  death  of  his  wife,  and  it  was 
perfectly  in  order  that  the  rupture  of  a  tie  of  more 
than  twenty  years  should  have  left  him  sore.  But 
if  she  had  been  so  clear  a  blessing  what  in  the  name 
of  consistency  had  the  dear  man  meant  by  turning 
him  upside  down  that  night  —  by  dosing  him  to 
that  degree,  at  the  most  sensitive  hour  of  his 
life,  with  the  doctrine  of  renunciation  ?  If  Mrs. 
St.  George  was  an  irreparable  loss,  then  her 
husband's  inspired  advice  had  been  a  bad  joke 
and  renunciation  was  a  mistake.  Overt  was  on 
the  point  of  rushing  back  to  London  to  show 

101 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

that,  for  his  part,  he  was  perfectly  willing  to 
consider  it  so,  and  he  went  so  far  as  to  take  the 
manuscript  of  the  first  chapters  of  his  new  book 
out  of  his  table-drawer,  to  insert  it  into  a  pocket 
of  his  portmanteau.  This  led  to  his  catching  a 
glimpse  of  certain  pages  he  had  n't  looked  at 
for  months,  and  that  accident,  in  turn,  to  his 
being  struck  with  the  high  promise  they  revealed 
—  a  rare  result  of  such  retrospections,  which  it 
was  his  habit  to  avoid  as  much  as  possible  :  they 
usually  brought  home  to  him  that  the  glow  of 
composition  might  be  a  purely  subjective  and 
misleading  emotion.  On  this  occasion  a  certain 
belief  in  himself  disengaged  itself  whimsically  from 
the  serried  erasures  of  his  first  draft,  making  him 
think  it  best  after  all  to  pursue  his  present  trial 
to  the  end.  If  he  could  write  as  well  under 
the  rigour  of  privation  it  might  be  a  mistake  to 
change  the  conditions  before  that  spell  had  spent 
itself.  He  would  go  back  to  London  of  course, 
but  he  would  go  back  only  when  he  should  have 
finished  his  book.  This  was  the  vow  he  privately 
made,  restoring  his  manuscript  to  the  table-drawer. 
It  may  be  added  that  it  took  him  a  long  time  to 
finish  his  book,  for  the  subject  was  as  difficult 
as  it  was  fine,  and  he  was  literally  embarrassed 
by  the  fulness  of  his  notes.  Something  within 
him  warned  him  that  he  must  make  it  supremely 
102 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

good  —  otherwise  he  should  lack,  as  regards  his 
private  behaviour,  a  handsome  excuse.  He  had 
a  horror  of  this  deficiency  and  found  himself  as 
firm  as  need  be  on  the  question  of  the  lamp  and  the 
file.  He  crossed  the  Alps  at  last  and  spent  the 
winter,  the  spring,  the  ensuing  summer,  in  Italy, 
where  still,  at  the  end  of  a  twelvemonth,  his 
task  was  unachieved.  "  Stick  to  it  —  see  it 
through  "  :  this  general  injunction  of  St.  George's 
was  good  also  for  the  particular  case.  He  applied 
it  to  the  utmost,  with  the  result  that  when  in  its 
slow  order  the  summer  had  come  round  again  he 
felt  he  had  given  all  that  was  in  him.  This  time 
he  put  his  papers  into  his  portmanteau,  with  the 
address  of  his  publisher  attached,  and  took  his 
way  northward. 

He  had  been  absent  from  London  for  two  years 
—  two  years  which,  seeming  to  count  as  more, 
had  made  such  a  difference  in  his  own  life  — 
through  the  production  of  a  novel  far  stronger, 
he  believed,  than  "  Ginistrella  "  —  that  he  turned 
out  into  Piccadilly,  the  morning  after  his  arrival, 
with  a  vague  expectation  of  changes,  of  finding 
great  things  had  happened.  But  there  were  few 
transformations  in  Piccadilly  —  only  three  or 
four  big  red  houses  where  there  had  been  low 
black  ones  —  and  the  brightness  of  the  end  of 
June  peeped  through  the  rusty  railings  of  the  Green 

103 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

Park  and  glittered  in  the  varnish  of  the  rolling 
carriages  as  he  had  seen  it  in  other,  more  cursory 
Junes.  It  was  a  greeting  he  appreciated ;  it  seemed 
friendly  and  pointed,  added  to  the  exhilaration 
of  his  finished  book,  of  his  having  his  own  country 
and  the  huge  oppressive  amusing  city  that  suggested 
everything,  that  contained  everything,  under  his 
hand  again.  "  Stay  at  home  and  do  things  here  — 
do  subjects  we  can  measure,"  St.  George  had  said  ; 
and  now  it  struck  him  he  should  ask  nothing 
better  than  to  stay  at  home  for  ever.  Late 
in  the  afternoon  he  took  his  way  to  Manchester 
Square,  looking  out  for  a  number  he  had  n't 
forgotten.  Miss  Fancourt,  however,  was  not  at 
home,  so  that  he  turned  rather  dejectedly  from 
the  door.  His  movement  brought  him  face  to 
face  with  a  gentleman  just  approaching  it  and 
recognised  on  another  glance  as  Miss  Fancourt's 
father.  Paul  saluted  this  personage,  and  the 
General  returned  the  greeting  with  his  customary 
good  manner  —  a  manner  so  good,  however, 
that  you  could  never  tell  whether  it  meant  he 
placed  you.  The  disappointed  caller  felt  the 
impulse  to  address  him  ;  then,  hesitating,  be- 
came both  aware  of  having  no  particular  remark 
to  make,  and  convinced  that  though  the  old 
soldier  remembered  him  he  remembered  him 
wrong.  He  therefore  went  his  way  without 
104 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

computing  the  irresistible  effect  his  own  evident 
recognition  would  have  on  the  General,  who 
never  neglected  a  chance  to  gossip.  Our  young 
man's  face  was  expressive,  and  observation  seldom 
let  it  pass.  He  had  n't  taken  ten  steps  before 
he  heard  himself  called  after  with  a  friendly  semi- 
articulate  "  Er  —  I  beg  your  pardon  !  "  He 
turned  round  and  the  General,  smiling  at  him  from 
the  porch,  said  :  "  Won  't  you  come  in  ?  I  won't 
leave  you  the  advantage  of  me  !  "  Paul  declined 
to  come  in,  and  then  felt  regret,  for  Miss  Fancourt, 
so  late  in  the  afternoon,  might  return  at  any 
moment.  But  her  father  gave  him  no  second 
chance  ;  he  appeared  mainly  to  wish  not  to  have 
struck  him  as  ungracious.  A  further  look  at  the 
visitor  had  recalled  something,  enough  at  least 
to  enable  him  to  say :  "  You  've  come  back, 
you  've  come  back  ?  "  Paul  was  on  the  point 
of  replying  that  he  had  come  back  the  night  before, 
but  he  suppressed,  the  next  instant,  this  strong 
light  on  the  immediacy  of  his  visit  and,  giving 
merely  a  general  assent,  alluded  to  the  young 
lady  he  deplored  not  having  found.  He  had 
come  late  in  the  hope  she  would  be  in.  "I  '11 
tell  her  —  I  '11  tell  her,"  said  the  old  man  ;  and 
then  he  added  quickly,  gallantly  :  "  You  '11  be 
giving  us  something  new  ?  It 's  a  long  time, 
is  n't  it  ?  "  Now  he  remembered  him  right. 

105 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

"  Rather  long.  I  'm  very  slow,"  Paul  explained. 
"  I  met  you  at  Summersoft  a  long  time  ago." 

"  Oh  yes  —  with  Henry  St.  George.  I  remember 

very  well.  Before  his  poor  wife "  General 

Fancourt  paused  a  moment,  smiling  a  little  less. 
"  I  dare  say  you  know." 

"About  Mrs.  St.  George's  death?  Certainly 
—  I  heard  at  the  time." 

"  Oh  no,  I  mean  —  I  mean  he  's  to  be  married." 

"Ah  I  Ve  not  heard  that !  "  But  just  as  Paul 
was  about  to  add  "  To  whom  ?  "  the  General 
crossed  his  intention. 

"  When  did  you  come  back  ?  I  know  you  Ve 
been  away  —  by  my  daughter.  She  was  very 
sorry.  You  ought  to  give  her  something  new." 

"  I  came  back  last  night,"  said  our  young  man, 
to  whom  something  had  occurred  which  made 
his  speech  for  the  moment  a  little  thick. 

"  Ah  most  kind  of  you  to  come  so  soon.  Could  n't 
you  turn  up  at  dinner  ?  " 

"  At  dinner  ?  "  Paul  just  mechanically  re- 
peated, not  liking  to  ask  whom  St.  George  was  going 
to  marry,  but  thinking  only  of  that. 

"  There  are  several  people,  I  believe.  Certainly 
St.  George.  Or  afterwards  if  you  like  better.  I 

believe  my  daughter  expects "  He  appeared 

to  notice  something  in  the  visitor's  raised  face 
(on  his  steps  he  stood  higher)  which  led  him  to 
106 


THE    LESSON   OF   THE   MASTER 

interrupt  himself,  and  the  interruption  gave  him 
a  momentary  sense  of  awkwardness,  from  which 
he  sought  a  quick  issue.  "  Perhaps  then  you 
have  n't  heard  she  's  to  be  married." 

Paul  gaped  again.     "  To  be  married  ?  " 

"  To  Mr.  St.  George  —  it  has  just  been  settled. 
Odd  marriage,  is  n't  it  ?  "  Our  listener  uttered 
no  opinion  on  this  point :  he  only  continued  to 
stare.  "  But  I  dare  say  it  will  do  —  she  's  so 
awfully  literary  !  "  said  the  General. 

Paul  had  turned  very  red.  "  Oh  it 's  a  surprise 
—  very  interesting,  very  charming !  I'm  afraid 
I  can  't  dine  —  so  many  thanks  !  " 

"  Well,  you  must  come  to  the  wedding  !  "  cried 
the  General.  "Oh  I  remember  that  day  at 
Summersoft.  He 's  a  great  man,  you  know." 

"  Charming  —  charming  !  "  Paul  stammered 
for  retreat.  He  shook  hands  with  the  General 
and  got  off.  His  face  was  red  and  he  had  the 
sense  of  its  growing  more  and  more  crimson.  All 
the  evening  at  home  —  he  went  straight  to  his 
rooms  and  remained  there  dinnerless  —  his  cheek 
burned  at  intervals  as  if  it  had  been  smitten. 
He  didn't  understand  what  had  happened  to 
him,  what  trick  had  been  played  him,  what 
treachery  practised.  "  None,  none,"  he  said  to 
himself.  "  I've  nothing  to  do  with  it.  I  'm  out 
of  it  —  it 's  none  of  my  business."  But  that 

107 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

bewildered  murmur  was  followed  again  and  again 
by  the  incongruous  ejaculation :  "  Was  it  a 
plan  —  was  it  a  plan  ?  "  Sometimes  he  cried 
to  himself,  breathless,  "  Have  I  been  duped,  sold, 
swindled  ? "  If  at  all,  he  was  an  absurd,  an 
abject  victim.  It  was  as  if  he  had  n't  lost  her  till 
now.  He  had  renounced  her,  yes ;  but  that 
was  another  affair  —  that  was  a  closed  but  not  a 
locked  door.  Now  he  seemed  to  see  the  door 
quite  slammed  in  his  face.  Did  he  expect  her 
to  wait  —  was  she  to  give  him  his  time  like  that : 
two  years  at  a  stretch  ?  He  did  n't  know  what 
he  had  expected  —  he  only  knew  what  he  had  n't. 
It  was  n't  this  —  it  was  n't  this.  Mystification 
bitterness  and  wrath  rose  and  boiled  in  him  when 
he  thought  of  the  deference,  the  devotion,  the 
credulity  with  which  he  had  listened  to  St.  George. 
The  evening  wore  on  and  the  light  was  long  ; 
but  even  when  it  had  darkened  he  remained  with- 
out a  lamp.  He  had  flung  himself  on  the  sofa, 
where  he  lay  through  the  hours  with  his  eyes 
either  closed  or  gazing  at  the  gloom,  in  the  attitude 
of  a  man  teaching  himself  to  bear  something, 
to  bear  having  been  made  a  fool  of.  He  had 
made  it  too  easy  —  that  idea  passed  over  him 
like  a  hot  wave.  Suddenly,  as  he  heard  eleven 
o'clock  strike,  he  jumped  up,  remembering  what 
General  Fancourt  had  said  about  his  coming 
108 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

after  dinner.  He  'd  go  —  he  'd  see  her  at  least ; 
perhaps  he  should  see  what  it  meant.  He  felt 
as  if  some  of  the  elements  of  a  hard  sum  had  been 
given  him  and  the  others  were  wanting  :  he 
could  n't  do  his  sum  till  he  had  got  all  his  figures. 
He  dressed  and  drove  quickly,  so  that  by  half- 
past  eleven  he  was  at  Manchester  Square.  There 
were  a  good  many  carriages  at  the  door —  a 
party  was  going  on  ;  a  circumstance  which  at  the 
last  gave  him  a  slight  relief,  for  now  he  would 
rather  see  her  in  a  crowd.  People  passed  him 
on  the  staircase  ;  they  were  going  away,  going 
"on"  with  the  hunted  herdlike  movement  of 
London  society  at  night.  But  sundry  groups 
remained  in  the  drawing-room,  and  it  was  some 
minutes,  as  she  did  n't  hear  him  announced, 
before  he  discovered  and  spoke  to  her.  In  this 
short  interval  he  had  seen  St.  George  talking  to 
a  lady  before  the  fireplace  ;  but  he  at  once  looked 
away,  feeling  unready  for  an  encounter,  and 
therefore  could  n't  be  sure  the  author  of  "  Shadow- 
mere  "  noticed  him.  At  all  events  he  did  n't  come 
over  ;  though  Miss  Fancourt  did  as  soon  as  she 
saw  him  —  she  almost  rushed  at  him,  smiling 
rustling  radiant  beautiful.  He  had  forgotten 
what  her  head,  what  her  face  offered  to  the  sight ; 
she  was  in  white,  there  were  gold  figures  on  her 
dress  and  her  hair  was  a  casque  of  gold.  He  saw 

109 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

in  a  single  moment  that  she  was  happy,  happy  with 
an  aggressive  splendour.  But  she  would  n't  speak 
to  him  of  that,  she  would  speak  only  of  himself. 

"  I  'm  so  delighted  ;  my  father  told  me.  How 
kind  of  you  to  come  !  "  She  struck  him  as  so  fresh 
and  brave,  while  his  eyes  moved  over  her,  that 
he  said  to  himself  irresistibly  :  "  Why  to  him, 
why  not  to  youth,  to  strength,  to  ambition,  to  a 
future  ?  Why,  in  her  rich  young  force,  to  failure, 
to  abdication,  to  superannuation  ? "  In  his 
thought  at  that  sharp  moment  he  blasphemed 
even  against  all  that  had  been  left  of  his  faith 
in  the  peccable  Master.  "  I  'm  so  sorry  I  missed 
you,"  she  went  on.  "  My  father  told  me.  How 
charming  of  you  to  have  come  so  soon  !  " 

"  Does  that  surprise  you  ?  "     Paul  Overt  asked. 

"  The  first  day  ?  No,  from  you  —  nothing  that 's 
nice."  She  was  interrupted  by  a  lady  who  bade 
her  good-night,  and  he  seemed  to  read  that  it 
cost  her  nothing  to  speak  to  him  in  that  tone  ; 
it  was  her  old  liberal  lavish  way,  with  a  certain 
added  amplitude  that  time  had  brought ;  and 
if  this  manner  began  to  operate  on  the  spot,  at 
such  a  juncture  in  her  history,  perhaps  in  the 
other  days  too  it  had  meant  just  as  little  or  as 
much  —  a  mere  mechanical  charity,  with  the 
difference  now  that  she  was  satisfied,  ready  to 
give  but  in  want  of  nothing.  Oh  she  was  satisfied 
110 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

—  and  why  should  n't  she  be  ?  Why  should  n't 
she  have  been  surprised  at  his  coming  the  first 
day  —  for  all  the  good  she  had  ever  got  from  him  ? 
As  the  lady  continued  to  hold  her  attention  Paul 
turned  from  her  with  a  strange  irritation  in  his 
complicated  artistic  soul  and  a  sort  of  disinterested 
disappointment.  She  was  so  happy  that  it  was 
almost  stupid  —  a  disproof  of  the  extraordinary 
intelligence  he  had  formerly  found  in  her.  Did  n't 
she  know  how  bad  St.  George  could  be,  had  n't 

she  recognised  the  awful  thinness ?     If  she 

did  n't  she  was  nothing,  and  if  she  did  why  such 
an  insolence  of  serenity  ?  This  question  expired 
as  our  young  man's  eyes  settled  at  last  on  the 
genius  who  had  advised  him  in  a  great  crisis. 
St.  George  was  still  before  the  chimney-piece,  but 
now  he  was  alone  —  fixed,  waiting,  as  if  he  meant 
to  stop  after  every  one  —  and  he  met  the  clouded 
gaze  of  the  young  friend  so  troubled  as  to  the 
degree  of  his  right  (the  right  his  resentment  would 
have  enjoyed)  to  regard  himself  as  a  victim. 
Somehow  the  ravage  of  the  question  was  checked 
by  the  Master's  radiance.  It  was  as  fine  in  its 
way  as  Marian  Fancourt's,  it  denoted  the  happy 
human  being;  but  also  it  represented  to  Paul 
Overt  that  the  author  of  "  Shadowmere "  had 
now  definitely  ceased  to  count  —  ceased  to  count 
as  a  writer.  As  he  smiled  a  welcome  across  the 

111 


THE    LESSON   OF   THE    MASTER 

place  he  was  almost  banal,  was  almost  smug.  Paul 
fancied  that  for  a  moment  he  hesitated  to  make 
a  movement,  as  if  for  all  the  world  he  had  his 
bad  conscience  ;  then  they  had  already  met  in  the 
middle  of  the  room  and  had  shaken  hands  — 
expressively,  cordially  on  St.  George's  part.  With 
which  they  had  passed  back  together  to  where  the 
elder  man  had  been  standing,  while  St.  George 
said  :  "I  hope  you  're  never  going  away  again. 
I  've  been  dining  here  ;  the  General  told  me." 
He  was  handsome,  he  was  young,  he  looked  as 
if  he  had  still  a  great  fund  of  life.  He  bent  the 
friendliest,  most  unconfessing  eyes  on  his  disciple 
of  a  couple  of  years  before  ;  asked  him  about 
everything,  his  health,  his  plans,  his  late  occupa- 
tions, the  new  book.  "  When  will  it  be  out  — 
soon,  soon,  I  hope  ?  Splendid,  eh  ?  That 's 
right ;  you  're  a  comfort,  you  're  a  luxury  !  I  Ve 
read  you  all  over  again  these  last  six  months." 
Paul  waited  to  see  if  he  would  tell  him  what 
the  General  had  told  him  in  the  afternoon  and 
what  Miss  Fancourt,  verbally  at  least,  of  course 
had  n't.  But  as  it  did  n't  come  out  he  at  last  put 
the  question 

44  Is   it  true,   the   great    news   I   hear  —  that 
you  're  to  be  married  ?  " 

"  Ah  you  have  heard  it  then  ?  " 

"  Did  n't  the  General  tell  you  ?  "   Paul  asked, 
112 


THE    LESSON    OF    THE    MASTER 

The  Master's  face  was  wonderful.      "  Tell  me 
what  ?  " 

"  That  he  mentioned  it  to  me  this  afternoon  ?  " 

"  My  dear  fellow,  I  don't  remember.  We  've 
been  in  the  midst  of  people.  I  'm  sorry,  in  that 
case,  that  I  lose  the  pleasure,  myself,  of  announcing 
to  you  a  fact  that  touches  me  so  nearly.  It  is  a 
fact,  strange  as  it  may  appear.  It  has  only  just 
become  one.  Is  n't  it  ridiculous  ?  "  St.  George 
made  this  speech  without  confusion,  but  on 
the  other  hand,  so  far  as  our  friend  could  judge, 
without  latent  impudence.  It  struck  his  inter- 
locutor that,  to  talk  so  comfortably  and  coolly, 
he  must  simply  have  forgotten  what  had  passed 
between  them.  His  next  words,  however,  showed 
he  had  n't,  and  they  produced,  as  an  appeal  to 
Paul's  own  memory,  an  effect  which  would  have 
been  ludicrous  if  it  had  n't  been  cruel.  "  Do  you 
recall  the  talk  we  had  at  my  house  that  night, 
into  which  Miss  Fancourt's  name  entered  ?  I've 
often  thought  of  it  since." 

44  Yes  ;  no  wonder  you  said  what  you  did  " 
—  Paul  was  careful  to  meet  his  eyes. 

"  In  the  light  of  the  present  occasion  ?  Ah  but 
there  was  no  light  then.  How  could  I  have  fore- 
seen this  hour  ?  " 

44  Did  n't  you  think  it  probable  ?  " 

44  Upon  my  honour,  no,"  said  Henry  St.  George. 
H  113 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

"  Certainly   I   owe   you   that   assurance.    Think 
how  my  situation  has  changed." 

"  I  see  —  I  see,"  our  young  man  murmured. 

His  companion  went  on  as  if,  now  that  the  subject 
had  been  broached,  he  was,  as  a  person  of  imagina- 
tion and  tact,  quite  ready  to  give  every  satisfac- 
tion —  being  both  by  his  genius  and  his  method 
so  able  to  enter  into  everything  another  might 
feel.  "  But  it 's  not  only  that ;  for  honestly, 
at  my  age,  I  never  dreamed  —  a  widower  with 
big  boys  and  with  so  little  else  !  It  has  turned  out 
differently  from  anything  one  could  have  dreamed, 
and  I  'm  fortunate  beyond  all  measure.  She  has 
been  so  free,  and  yet  she  consents.  Better  than 
any  one  else  perhaps  —  for  I  remember  how  you 
liked  her  before  you  went  away,  and  how  she  liked 
you  —  you  can  intelligently  congratulate  me." 

"  She  has  been  so  free  !  "  Those  words  made 
a  great  impression  on  Paul  Overt,  and  he  almost 
writhed  under  that  irony  in  them  as  to  which  it 
so  little  mattered  whether  it  was  designed  or  casual. 
Of  course  she  had  been  free,  and  appreciably  per- 
haps by  his  own  act;  for  wasn't  the  Master's 
allusion  to  her  having  liked  him  a  part  of  the  irony 
too  ?  "I  thought  that  by  your  theory  you 
disapproved  of  a  writer's  marrying." 

"  Surely  —  surely.     But    you    don't    call    me 
a  writer  ?  " 
114 


THE    LESSON    OF   THE    MASTER 

"  You  ought  to  be  ashamed,"  said  Paul. 

"  Ashamed  of  marrying  again  ?  " 

"  I  won't  say  that  —  but  ashamed  of  your 
reasons." 

The  elder  man  beautifully  smiled.  "  You  must 
let  me  judge  of  them,  my  good  friend." 

"  Yes  ;  why  not  ?  For  you  judged  wonder- 
fully of  mine." 

The  tone  of  these  words  appeared  suddenly,  for 
St.  George,  to  suggest  the  unsuspected.  He 
stared  as  if  divining  a  bitterness.  "  Don't  you 
think  I  've  been  straight  ?  " 

"  You  might  have  told  me  at  the  time  per- 
haps." 

44  My  dear  fellow,  when  I  say  I  could  n't  pierce 
futurity  -— ! " 

"  I  mean  afterwards." 

The  Master  wondered.  "  After  my  wife's 
death  ?  " 

"  When  this  idea  came  to  you." 

"  Ah  never,  never  I  I  wanted  to  save  you,  rare 
and  precious  as  you  are." 

Poor  Overt  looked  hard  at  him.  "  Are  you 
marrying  Miss  Fancourt  to  save  me  ?  " 

"  Not  absolutely,  but  it  adds  to  the  pleasure. 
I  shall  be  the  making  of  you,"  St.  George 
smiled.  "  I  was  greatly  struck,  after  our  talk, 
with  the  brave  devoted  way  you  quitted  the 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

country,  and  still  more  perhaps  with  your  force 
of  character  in  remaining  abroad.  You  're  very 
strong  —  you  're  wonderfully  strong." 

Paul  tried  to  sound  his  shining  eyes ;  the 
strange  thing  was  that  he  seemed  sincere  —  not 
a  mocking  fiend.  He  turned  away,  and  as  he 
did  so  heard  the  Master  say  something  about 
his  giving  them  all  the  proof,  being  the  joy  of  his 
old  age.  He  faced  him  again,  taking  another 
look.  "  Do  you  mean  to  say  you  've  stopped 
writing  ?  " 

"  My  dear  fellow,  of  course  I  have.  It 's  too 
late.  Didn't  I  tell  you?" 

44 1  can't  believe  it !  " 

"  Of  course  you  can't  —  with  your  own  talent ! 
No,  no  ;  for  the  rest  of  my  life  I  shall  only  read 
you" 

"  Does  she  know  that  —  Miss  Fancourt  ?  " 

"  She  will  —  she  will."  Did  he  mean  this,  our 
young  man  wondered,  as  a  covert  intimation  that 
the  assistance  he  should  derive  from  that  young 
lady's  fortune,  moderate  as  it  was,  would  make 
the  difference  of  putting  it  in  his  power  to  cease 
to  work  ungratefully  an  exhausted  vein  ?  Some- 
how, standing  there  in  the  ripeness  of  his  successful 
manhood,  he  did  n't  suggest  that  any  of  his  veins 
were  exhausted.  "Don't  you  remember  the 
moral  I  offered  myself  to  you  that  night  as 
116 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

pointing  ?  "    St.   George  continued.     "  Consider 
at  any  rate  the  warning  I  am  at  present." 

This  was  too  much  —  he  was  the  mocking  fiend. 
Paul  turned  from  him  with  a  mere  nod  for  good- 
night and  the  sense  in  a  sore  heart  that  he  might 
come  back  to  him  and  his  easy  grace,  his  fine  way 
of  arranging  things,  some  time  in  the  far  future, 
but  couldn't  fraternise  with  him  now.  It  was 
necessary  to  his  soreness  to  believe  for  the  hour 
in  the  intensity  of  his  grievance  —  all  the  more 
cruel  for  its  not  being  a  legal  one.  It  was  doubt- 
less in  the  attitude  of  hugging  this  wrong  that 
he  descended  the  stairs  without  taking  leave 
of  Miss  Fancourt,  who  hadn't  been  in  view 
at  the  moment  he  quitted  the  room.  He  was 
glad  to  get  out  into  the  honest  dusky  unsophisti- 
cating  night,  to  move  fast,  to  take  his  way  home 
on  foot.  He  walked  a  long  time,  going  astray, 
paying  no  attention.  He  was  thinking  of  too 
many  other  things.  His  steps  recovered  their 
direction,  however,  and  at  the  end  of  an  hour 
he  found  himself  before  his  door  in  the  small 
inexpensive  empty  street.  He  lingered,  question- 
ing himself  still  before  going  in,  with  nothing 
around  and  above  him  but  moonless  blackness, 
a  bad  lamp  or  two  and  a  few  far-away  dim  stars. 
To  these  last  faint  features  he  raised  his  eyes  ; 
he  had  been  saying  to  himself  that  he  should 

117 


THE  LESSON  OF  THE  MASTER 

have  been  "  sold "  indeed,  diabolically  sold,  if 
now,  on  his  new  foundation,  at  the  end  of  a 
year,  St.  George  were  to  put  forth  something  of 
his  prime  quality  —  something  of  the  type  of 
"  Shadowmere  "  and  finer  than  his  finest.  Greatly 
as  he  admired  his  talent  Paul  literally  hoped 
such  an  incident  would  n't  occur ;  it  seemed  to 
him  just  then  that  he  should  n't  be  able  to  bear 
it.  His  late  adviser's  words  were  still  in  his  ears 
—  "  You  're  very  strong,  wonderfully  strong." 
Was  he  really  ?  Certainly  he  would  have  to  be, 
and  it  might  a  little  serve  for  revenge.  Is  he  ? 
the  reader  may  ask  in  turn,  if  his  interest  has 
followed  the  perplexed  young  man  so  far.  The 
best  answer  to  that  perhaps  is  that  he  's  doing 
his  best,  but  that  it's  too  soon  to  say.  When 
the  new  book  came  out  in  the  autumn  Mr.  and 
Mrs.  St.  George  found  it  really  magnificent.  The 
former  still  has  published  nothing  but  Paul  does  n't 
even  yet  feel  safe.  I  may  say  for  him,  however, 
that  if  this  event  were  to  occur  he  would  really 
be  the  very  first  to  appreciate  it :  which  is  perhaps 
a  proof  that  the  Master  was  essentially  right  and 
that  Nature  had  dedicated  him  to  intellectual, 
not  to  personal  passion. 


THE     BALLANTYNE     PRESS 
LONDON  &•  EDINBURGH 


N 

j 

Q£ 

<D 

U 

•*• 

-o 

jfj 

1 

>-    Z 

E 

RSITY  LIBRAR 
JFORNIA,  SA 

D 
Ul 

| 

B 

JD 

>   < 

O 

_c 

"^ 

Z 

c 

^o 

o 

0) 

£  fc 

3 

i 

^ 

LJJ 

j 

Z 

ID 

IE 

PS 

Ill  Mill  Illll  Illl  II    HIM  III!  IN    III!  ||  HII  HI    III  ||  HI    |    |  || 

3  2106  00207  3804